A Private University’s Decade of Military Support
In contrast to institutions that are new to attracting veterans, Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, branded itself as a military-friendly university more than a decade ago. Here are details of Liberty’s approach.
By Al Rickard
The Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008 brings good news for more than 2 million military service members and veterans, who have served in combat since Sept. 11, 2001. Thanks to the legislation, which takes effect on August 1, these veterans-and in some cases, their families-will receive greatly enhanced benefits that will allow many more of them to attend college full time. Your campus is likely to see part of the resulting influx; Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) officials are expecting a 20 percent jump in benefits claims this fall over the usual number filed.
In "Saluting a New Cadre of Students," in the June-July 2009 print issue of Business Officer, you'll read about numerous efforts of colleges and universities to enhance their services in preparation for the returning troops. For the most part, higher education institutions began to ramp up their veteran-related activities in response to the rapidly growing number of veterans returning from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and the anticipated response to the legislation (commonly known as the Post-9/11 GI Bill or the new GI Bill).
In contrast to institutions that are new to attracting veterans and supporting their education, Liberty University, a private institution in Lynchburg, Virginia, branded itself as a military-friendly university more than a decade ago. Following are the details of the university's attitude, approach, and actions relating to returning veterans who choose higher education as their next stop.
An Egalitarian Approach
The world's largest evangelical university, Liberty is host to more than 40,000 students both on and off campus. The student body hails from all 50 states and more than 80 countries around the world. As a distinctively Christian, military-friendly university, Liberty represents all branches of the military, with approximately 9,000 of its students serving in spots all over the globe. To meet the needs of veterans and eligible family members, Liberty offers a wide variety of undergraduate and graduate degree programs in online, classroom, and blended formats.
"Recognizing and appreciating the deep sacrifice that is continually made on our country's behalf," says Emily Foutz, the university's director of military affairs, "Liberty is devoted to helping our servicemen and women from around the globe reach their highest potential and achieve their dreams by providing a high-quality, flexible, and affordable Christian education."
A Decade of Dedication
Foutz says that the university has been focused for at least 10 years on serving military veterans. "A decade ago," she explains, "we established a military support office that had a Veterans Affairs certifying official, who could help students understand their VA benefits and academic equivalency for military training. Even now many schools don't have a separate, dedicated support office for military and veterans."
Today, the Office of Military Affairs at Liberty University has nine full-time and three part-time staff, including four VA certifying officials. Furthermore, the university employs tuition assistance representatives and military-trained academic advisers and admission specialists, as well as two staff located at a satellite office at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. "We have specially trained military academic advisers who counsel our military and veteran students and anticipate what classes they'll need based on their military background and their future goals," says Foutz. "We try to give them as much credit as we can [based on the college credit recommendations of the American Council on Education (ACE)] to try to get them through as quickly as possible."
Services Both Traditional and Unique
The Office of Military Affairs assists students with processing all military and veterans benefits, including those related to tuition assistance, the Post-9/11 GI Bill, vocational rehabilitation services, the Reserve Education Assistance Program, the Survivors' and Dependents' Educational Assistance Program, and additional university-provided benefits such as military book vouchers, tuition discounts, and fee waivers.
Also available are other standard military-friendly options such as benefits related to the Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges (SOC) Consortium (a group dedicated to helping service members and their families obtain college degrees); generous transfer credit for military evaluations (based on ACE standards); and dedicated military affairs personnel and support offices.
As an SOC member, Liberty University can issue, through its Office of Military Affairs, SOC student agreements that assist service members and veterans in tracking the status of degree completion. The SOC agreement allows service members to transfer from institution to institution with greater ease. All institutions that participate in the SOC program have certain courses that are guaranteed to transfer to other SOC-affiliated institutions. Once a student has received a military evaluation and has been fully accepted into a degree program, the SOC agreement is issued. This degree plan indicates all military and civilian credit that can be applied toward the student's degree and the remaining requirements needed to complete the degree program.
Liberty University also provides unique services not offered by other universities to benefit veterans and active-duty military members and their spouses. Many of these benefits are delivered via Liberty University Online. Highlights include military-friendly degree programs, technology fee waivers, book vouchers (undergraduate only), tuition discounts, and the Heroes Fund Scholarship. Students approved for this scholarship are awarded an amount to cover all remaining tuition and fees once financial aid, military aid, and Veterans Affairs benefits have been deducted from the total amount.
Foutz believes that one of Liberty University's most important military support services is the Heroes Fund Scholarship. "We know that freedom comes at a high price for many. To show appreciation for our service members who have been wounded while protecting our liberties, the Heroes Fund Scholarship is offered to service members and veterans who were wounded in Operation Desert Storm, Operation Enduring Freedom, or Operation Iraqi Freedom," says Foutz. She adds that spouses of soldiers who were killed in action during these conflicts are also eligible for the scholarship.
To find out more about Liberty University and its services for military veterans, visit www.luonline.com/military.
AL RICKARD, president, Association Vision, Chantilly, Virginia, writes on higher education business topics for Business Officer.