What can higher education do to prepare for and help transition the more than one million veterans returning from abroad?
That was the focal point of discussion at the 2013 Excelsior College Academic Partnership forum held on Excelsior’s campus in Albany, New York on September 10. Nearly 20 two-year institutions from as far away as Arizona joined the distance learning leader for a daylong discussion of higher education transfer issues.
The keynote session, “The Veteran Transfer Experience”, focused on helping veterans navigate through the “choppy seas” of higher education, and was led by Jeremy Glasstetter, director of the Lt. Col. Bryant A. Murray Veterans Center, former national president of the Student Veterans of America and an expert of military transition issues.
“A better educated veteran is more likely to be a productive citizen,” proclaimed Glasstetter in his opening remarks, before outlining the military and veteran-centric support services included within the Center, which Excelsior is also opening up to community college partners and their students.
Session panelists, comprised of academic advisors and financial aid and veterans affairs experts, explored the distinct features of Excelsior’s Center including sections dedicated to transition issues, student and academic support, and mentorship opportunities.
The session focused heavily on the work of the Center for Military Education at Excelsior College, which helps identify college training that has been approved for college credit by the American Council on Education, among other priorities.
“The primary mission (of the Center for Military Education) is to serve as a liaison and first line contact for prospective and enrolled military and veteran students,” said panelist Mark Diodato, a military academic advisor at Excelsior, who like all advisors, is cross-trained on all Excelsior programs. “We speak their language, we can navigate the military documents looking for credit, we can answer a lot of their questions, we can interpret their acronyms that students will use…”
According to Glasstetter, it’s this type of “intimate and personal touch” that scientific studies show helps lead to academic success for veterans.
The topic of student services was among the day’s most popular topics among partner attendees. Many even semed surprised by the breadth of the benefits that would be available to their veteran students, including access to Excelsior’s career center, veteran to veteran mentoring, and even free financial and legal counseling and health and wellness services. Excelsior even provides a suicide hotline, the latter an essential feature in a country where 22 veterans commit suicide every day.
Traditionally, these types of services have fallen under the realm of the Veterans Administration. Unfortunately, says Glasstetter, as studies have shown, veterans are not taking advantage of these services. He said Excelsior wants to take the lead in helping matriculate and assimilate these heroes back into civilian life.
“While higher education campuses denote the unique characteristics and geographical attributes of the community they serve, today’s partnership day represents a new form of inter-model agreement as faculty and staff gathered together to learn how veteran services, developed specifically for the military-affiliated community members, can be seamlessly passed and shared between the institutions, helping to orchestrate and facilitate a sincere and holistic transitional service package for today’s transitioning warriors,” added Glasstetter.