Establishing a Veteran-Friendly Campus
Spotlight: Comprehensive and Doctoral Institutions, from "Business Briefs" department in September 2009 issue of Business Officer
By James Olive
Outreach to veterans is a popular and enrollment-boosting trend among comprehensive and doctoral institutions. In January 2009, Youngstown State University (YSU), Ohio, established a formal Office of Veterans Affairs in anticipation of returning service personnel making use of the benefits of the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008 (commonly known as the New GI Bill or the Post-9/11 GI Bill). The OVA's mission is to accommodate all military personnel and veterans by making YSU a more welcoming place for them.
The challenge in recruiting veterans is that they are not gathered in great numbers in one place as are high school students, office professionals, or displaced workers seeking to retrain. What veterans do have, however, is a strong word-of-mouth network and family connections looking out for them. These realities are the basis for YSU's recruiting strategies, which include the following:
- Recruit through houses of worship by placing notes in church bulletins, for example, and circulate information at veteran organizations, members of which will have children, nephews, nieces, and grandchildren who may be interested in higher education.
- Establish relationships with local military recruiters and county veteran services, such as clinics, employment services, and social services, to present college as an opportunity.
- Join the Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges (SOC), a consortium of colleges that recruit, enroll, and support current military personnel, veterans, and family members.
- Distribute SOC's College Referral and Intent to Enroll Form, promoted by Army recruiters and filled out by new soldiers concurrent with their enlistment. New soldiers select a college and state their intent to enroll during or after enlistment.
- Build an informative, specific, and welcoming stand-alone Web site.
- Give up-close and personal attention to all queries and visits.
When the university asked some campus professionals for recommendations on how to go about preparing for the anticipated influx of veterans from YSU's widespread recruiting efforts, a few employees who are themselves veterans formed an advisory council. That group has since grown to a formal, standing, nine-member body that acts independently of the OVA and includes as full members faculty, students, trustees, and community representatives.
The council advises the university through the OVA on all personnel issues and concerns of veterans and current military students. Additionally, the council has established strong contacts with our congressional leaders.
Examples of the council's significant impact include:
- Establishing the foundation to grow toward a full-service center—the office being a separate entity reporting directly to the vice president of student affairs.
- Implementing a waiver of application and orientation fees, a savings of $105, for this audience. We offer this benefit as a way to establish YSU as a veteran-friendly place and thereby facilitate recruitment.
- Renaming a street on campus as Armed Forces Boulevard and organizing a ribbon-cutting ceremony for October 30 with U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH).
- Redesigning YSU's enrollment application to make it more pertinent to veterans.
- Improving the process for tracking all veterans and current military personnel, not just those who are currently drawing GI benefits.
The university recognizes these efforts as solid business decisions, given that the guaranteed federal dollars that support GI Bill educational benefits completely cover the costs of attending our university.
SUBMITTED BY James Olive, program manager, Office of Veterans Affairs, Youngstown State University, Ohio