In this month’s Higher Ed Careers interview, we are re-visiting the topic of military friendly institutions and practices. We spoke with Steven Hall, a 25-year Air Force veteran, who discussed his work on campus in veterans affairs (VA) and services and some of the best practices his institution implements to make a successful campus life experience for its veteran population.
Andrew Hibel, HigherEdJobs: Please tell us a little about your military background and how your path led to working in academia.
Steven L. Hall, systems director – Veterans Affairs, Veterans Services, Lone Star College: The largest portion of my military background was primarily spent in the “intelligence arena” and, as some will tell you, those skill sets are not readily transferable into the civilian community. I had acquired a considerable amount of semester hours of college credit and decided to pursue a Bachelor’s Degree in Business. While attending a university in Arizona (2009), I was approached by the institution’s leadership and was asked to consider working in the university’s VA department to open up a newly established military/veteran outreach program. I eagerly accepted the opportunity and the rest is history!
Hibel: How has being a leader in the military translated to being a leader on campus?
Hall: Servant leadership can accommodate any setting, military or otherwise. I think it is important to set the example with regard to pursuing continuing education and committing oneself to being a life-long learner. [I am] currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership and hope to graduate in the spring of 2017.
Hibel: For some veterans, returning to civilian life and adjusting to college may feel lonely or isolated. How should institutions ideally work to make the transition easier?
Hall: Higher education institutions should ensure advisors/counselors are well-versed in military tuition assistance and GI Bill benefits (all chapters) and be well-informed of additional resources that support not just the veteran, but the larger military-affiliated community. The institution’s advisors/counselors should also be knowledgeable of and be able to facilitate access to additional counseling resources based on the respective veteran student’s needs. Higher education institutions should also establish a VA Center of Excellence model to leverage “best practices” etc…
- Establishing a Center of Excellence for Veteran Student Success on the campus of the institution to provide a single point of contact to coordinate comprehensive support services for veteran students;
- Establishing a veteran student support team (specific point(s) of contact), including representatives from the offices of the institution responsible for admissions, registration, financial aid, veterans’ benefits, academic advising, student health, personal or mental health counseling, career advising, disabilities services, and any other office of the institution that provides support to veteran students on campus;
- Track and monitor the rates of veteran student enrollment, persistence, and completion;
- Provide instructional services, tutoring, academic, and/or career counseling;
- Establish a robust Competency-Based Education and Prior-Learning Assessment platform to ensure the veteran receives previously established/verifiable transfer credit into respective degree/certificate programs;
- Establish a military-affiliated student orientation program and/or other programs designed to assist in transition/retention and academic persistence of the military-affiliated student population.
Hibel: What are some of the physical or mental health-related challenges that military or veteran students encounter when they arrive or return to campus? How do staff assist them in overcoming these challenges?
Hall: Some veterans encounter or experience a sense of isolation and/or have difficulty relating to non-military-affiliated students. Issues with PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), and associated challenges with cognitive skills may adversely impact the students’ ability to concentrate and stay engaged. Hearing (hearing loss, tinnitus) and musculoskeletal challenges (amputations, joint and/or back pain), in addition to side effects from required medication(s) can detract from the students’ ability to adjust or otherwise engage in the education/learning process.
Staff can assist by being well-versed in identifying and assisting early on as they engage the respective veteran student population. Additionally, staff should be provided the opportunity to be exposed to professional development opportunities that continue to update and inform on processes and best practices.
Hibel: In the 7th Annual IAVA Member Survey, nearly 79 percent of members said their institution is “veteran friendly.” The term “veteran friendly” can be subjective depending on each veteran’s perspective, but what do you think “veteran friendly” should mean for colleges and universities?
Hall: The term “military friendly” no longer carries the positive connotation as originally intended. At best, the term has become passé; at worst, as embodied in some postsecondary institutions, has come to represent “predatory” practice(s).
Briefly, “military friendly” is best captured in postsecondary institutions with programs that have robust administrative processes:
- Recognize and transfer previous military credit into degree/certificate programs;
- Competency-Based Education (CBE) and Prior-Learning Assessment (PLA) platforms that recognize military experience;
- Veteran-specific orientation;
- Academic preparation and tutoring;
- Mentor-Protégé program;
- Access to mental health or other services; and
- Student-Veteran organizations
Hibel: GI Bill rates increase yearly based on the Government’s CPI. The housing allowance and private school tuition reimbursement rates have also increased. Do you think the government is sufficiently providing financial resources for veterans for higher education access? Why?
Hall: I believe the government is doing most of the heavy lifting with regard to providing financial support. I believe the DOD, Department of Education, and the Department. of Veterans Affairs should seek mutually beneficial avenues to collaborate with postsecondary institutions to incentivize innovation in the form of programs that seek to develop all-inclusive solutions that are community-based and reflective of the military-affiliated student body being served. The discussions should include not just veterans, but active-duty, military spouses, and dependents that are attending postsecondary educational institutions.
Hibel: If you were mentoring a new veterans affairs professional, what advice would you give them to provide the best service to the student?
Hall: Immerse oneself in the education industry and more specifically, the peer-reviewed literature that delves deeply into studies and associated research seeking to address veteran and the larger military-affiliated student populations’ challenges. Also, consider other programs that strive to address other “traditionally underserved” student populations and seek to implement best practices from across the academic spectrum.
Hibel: What drives you to continue to be engaged in the field of veterans affairs in higher education?
Hall: I retired from the U.S. Air Force in 2006 and even though I shed the uniform, I did not shed the responsibility to mentor, teach, and advocate for those who have served and/or continue to serve in the Armed Forces – I have found my second career!
Hibel: As we approach Veteran’s Day on November 11th, we at HigherEdJobs would like to say “thank you” to you and all veterans for serving our country, and thank you for the work that you do assisting military students who are serving or have served.
Hall: Thank you, it continues to richly reward the effort and is well worth it!