An Educational Experience Second to None for VCU’s Vets

For 70 years, the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 – known as the “GI Bill” – has provided our nation’s military with higher education opportunities. In an effort to give back to our veterans, the Obama administration signed an  Executive Order 13607, Establishing Principles of Excellence for Educational Institutions Serving Service Members, Veterans, Spouses, and Other Family Members that led to the creation of the 8 Keys to Veterans’ Success (8 Keys).

These are concrete steps institutions of higher education can take to assist veterans and service members on their campus in their transition to postsecondary education. Over 400 universities and colleges across the country have pledged themselves to these 8 Keys. On July 16, Education Under Secretary Ted Mitchell and Under Secretary of Veterans Affairs Allison A. Hickey sent a joint letter to institutions of higher education encouraging them to affirm support for the 8 Keys.

Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) offers a view into what it looks like to support veterans through the 8 Keys.

“At Virginia Commonwealth University, we have taken significant steps to ensure that our more than 1,100 veteran, active duty, and military dependent students have an educational experience that is second to none in our nation,” VCU President Michael Rao said. “We are proud of our record in supporting these outstanding students, and we are committed to ensuring that they have every resource to succeed at VCU and beyond.”

From the creation of Military Student Services (MSS) to the Green Zone program, veteran students on campus have ample opportunity to connect with one another. MSS addresses the unique needs of military students during their time at the university. Undergraduate student Scott Seal said, “MSS guided me through every step of the transition process, from utilizing my GI benefits to registering for classes and helping me to navigate the college experience.” The Military Student Service Center (MSSC) works with a number of organizations to help improve the student veteran experience and offers a number of systems that provide students with financial, academic and career advice. MSSC is centrally located and provides military affiliated students with a place to relax, study and socialize with their peers.

Green Zone is an innovative program that trains university faculty and staff members on how to better support veteran students making the difficult transition from service member to student. “The training was immensely helpful and targeted a population of students all too often forgotten. I would recommend Green Zone training to any individual employed in a higher education setting who has contact with active or veteran military students,” said Amy Rostan, a VCU academic advisor. VCU’s efforts are not solely confined to their own campus but have reached other institutions. For example, Green Zone has been shared with approximately 20 other colleges and universities across America.

To join VCU and the hundreds of other schools committing to these principles, to learn more about them, and to electronically upload your institution’s affirmation letter, visit the 8 Keys registration website.

Sydney Mann is an intern for the Military Affairs Team at the U.S. Department of Education.

Helping Veterans Succeed in the Classroom

Dr Biden

Dr. Biden delivers opening remarks at Google’s veterans’ higher education event, Washington, D.C., November 13, 2013

Cross-posted from the Joining Forces Blog.

Yesterday, Dr. Jill Biden joined Google for their announcement of a Global Impact Award to the Institute for Veterans and Military FamiliesStudent Veterans of America, the Posse Foundation and Veterans of Foreign Wars to help ensure colleges and universities have the information they need to help veterans succeed in obtaining higher education.

“I have seen it in my own classroom — veterans bring the same determination and focus to their studies that they brought to serving our country,” said Dr. Biden, a lifelong educator and military mom.

Dr. Biden said the efforts were “exactly what the First Lady and I hoped to see when we started our Joining Forces initiative two years ago … individuals, businesses, and nonprofits working with the public sector to step up and do what they do best to help veterans and military families.”

Over the next few years, more than a million service men and women will end their military careers and transition back to civilian life. For many, education will be at the front line of that transition. Ensuring that our returning veterans and military families have access to the programs and resources that will help them successfully navigate their educational paths is critical.

As Dr. Biden noted, many of the student veterans she has met face unique challenges – they differ from their classmates in terms of age and experience, they often find a more relaxed schedule on campus to be very different from the rigid military schedule they are used to, and are juggling multiple priorities outside of school.

As part of Joining Forces, Dr. Biden plans to visit programs at colleges and universities around the country who are supporting veterans and military families to learn more about how successful programs can be replicated at other institutions.

8 Keys to Success: Supporting Veterans, Military and Military Families on Campus

Cross-posted from White House Blog

On Saturday, at the Disabled American Veterans National Convention, President Obama outlined five Administration priorities that ensure we are fulfilling our promises to those who have served our nation, including supporting our veterans in institutions of higher learning. In his speech, President Obama announced that 250 community colleges and universities have committed to implementing the 8 Keys to Success on their campuses. Developed by the Administration, the Department of Education (ED), and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in conjunction with more than 100 education experts, the 8 Keys to Success on campus are eight concrete steps that institutions of higher education can take to help veterans and service members transition into the classroom and thrive once they are there.

The 8 Keys to Success on campus are:

  1. Create a culture of trust and connectedness across the campus community to promote well-being and success for veterans.

  2. Ensure consistent and sustained support from campus leadership.

  3. Implement an early alert system to ensure all veterans receive academic, career, and financial advice before challenges become overwhelming.

  4. Coordinate and centralize campus efforts for all veterans, together with the creation of a designated space (even if limited in size).

  5. Collaborate with local communities and organizations, including government agencies, to align and coordinate various services for veterans.

  6. Utilize a uniform set of data tools to collect and track information on veterans, including demographics, retention and degree completion.

  7. Provide comprehensive professional development for faculty and staff on issues and challenges unique to veterans.

  8. Develop systems that ensure sustainability of effective practices for veterans.

With more and more service members returning home in the next year, it has never been more important for schools to have a roadmap in place to make sure veterans are getting the best possible educational experience. By adopting the 8 Keys to Success, schools are taking a positive step in that direction.

VSOC, VITAL, and 8 Keys to Success Sites (Image from US Department of Education)

VSOC, VITAL, and 8 Keys to Success Sites (Image from US Department of Education)

The 250 schools that have committed to the 8 Keys to Success are helping veterans and military families afford and complete their college degrees, certificates, industry-recognized credentials and licenses, and—importantly—preparing them for jobs in high-growth sectors of the economy. More schools are expected to adopt the 8 Keys to Success on campus in the coming months.

The 8 Keys to Success are only part of the Administration’s efforts to support and protect service members in the classroom. The Keys build on the Administration’s Principles of Excellence, which President Obama established by Executive Order in April 2012. The Principles of Excellence provide protections for our military and veterans in institutions of higher education to prevent against dishonest recruiting and predatory practices. To further veterans’ success in higher education, the VA is also expanding its VetSuccess on Campus and Veterans Integration to Academic Leadership programs, which connect veterans to VA resources. Together, all of these measures will help provide our veterans and military families with the high-quality, affordable education they deserve.

We all owe a great debt to those who have served this country. Giving schools tools they can use to truly welcome and support our returning service members is one way we can help repay that debt by making sure we are providing our veterans and military families with an education worthy of their exceptional talents and experience.

Coming Home: Pathways to Success for Service Members and Veterans

Cross-posted from Joining Forces.

With more than a million veterans returning home to our nation’s shores over the next five years, we have an unprecedented opportunity – and a civic obligation – to strengthen their pathways to success. To prepare for their return home and their transition back to civilian life, the Obama Administration sought – early on– to bring diverse government partners to the table, calling for an interagency planning effort to support Service members’ career readiness.

JoiningForces.govIn response to President Obama’s call to action for a career-ready military in August 2011, the Veterans Employment Initiative Task Force was launched, under the leadership of the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs. This interagency effort has brought together a collaboration of federal agencies – including Education, the Small Business Administration, Labor, Homeland Security and the Office of Personnel Management, as well as our military services and National Guard and Reserves –  as partners, working together on the first major redesign of the military’s Transition Assistance Program in over twenty years to develop a comprehensive, outcome-based re-entry program now called Transition Goals, Plans, Success (Transition GPS).

Each of the partner federal agencies is contributing leadership and resources to activate the implementation of Transition GPS, in accordance with the VOW to Hire Heroes Act signed into law November 21, 2011. Key to this work has been the development of a core 3-day curriculum, career readiness standards, three optional tracks for transition (Higher Education, Technical Training, and Entrepreneurship), as well as options for learning in brick-and-mortar classrooms and online. Throughout their participation, Service members will receive individualized counseling and support in the preparation of a transition plan. The program also provides Service members who are exiting active duty with an education transcript, resume, access to labor market information, employment and housing opportunities, benefits information, mentoring resources, and other support services.

Based on lessons learned from as early as 1991 when Congress mandated that a Transition Assistance Plan be enacted,  this redesign is guided by the view that preparation for the transition from military to civilian life should begin upon entry to boot camp. Transition GPS is the way forward, ensuring that our separating military men and women prepare for educational advancement and career opportunities throughout their lives. With the availability of military training, courses, and online certificate and degree opportunities, Service members will design an individual education and career plan to guide their future, both during and after their term of duty.

Today, many colleges and universities provide academic credit for individual courses, full programs of study and prior learning acquired on ships, during combat and at base locations worldwide. In the next few years, Transition GPS will provide the pathways for veterans re-entering their communities with career-ready education and training for success in the workforce. Some will exit having earned their high school diplomas, GEDs, and/or their associates’, bachelors’ or masters’ degrees. Others will seamlessly continue their education or training following their military careers in quality, affordable educational programs, taking advantage of internships or apprenticeships to be fully ready for their chosen careers.

Federal agency partners working with Military and Veterans Service Organizations have committed to maximizing resources, aligning benefits for Service members, and reducing duplication and system inefficiencies to best facilitate Service members’ transition to civilian life. More than 60 percent of jobs will require some postsecondary education or training: we want all of our veterans to take advantage of the variety of benefits available to them, so that they can choose an educational program with good job prospects that will serve them well.

Our collective goal – aspiring for every veteran to have a seamless pathway to pursuing future employment opportunities with career-ready knowledge and skills for success – is ambitious, but Transition GPS is a key component in strengthening that journey. Whether a veteran needs financial planning, an educational program like Troops to Teachers, help on campus from an experienced counselor, claims assistance, disability or other medical services from the VA, guidance on accessing federal student aid or navigating college and university opportunities, or help from the SBA to set up a small business, we stand at an extraordinary moment in time to welcome our men and women home and serve  them and their families better than we’ve ever done in the past to prepare them for bright and prosperous futures.

Rosye Cloud is the Director of Policy for Veterans, Wounded Warriors and Military Families at the White House. Martha Kanter is the Under Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education. 

3 Things You May Not Know About Financial Aid For Veterans

3 Things You May Not Know About Financial Aid For Veterans

I recently separated from the Navy after 10 years of active duty service. Shortly after separation, I decided to go back to college. I knew that I had Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits that I could use, but there were a few things I didn’t know.

You still qualify for federal student aid.

Even if you are receiving Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits, you can still receive federal student aid as well. I was unaware of this when I started my graduate degree. If you would like to apply for federal student aid, then you will have to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). You can save yourself some time by making sure you gather all the documents needed to apply.

You may be eligible for a Monthly Housing Allowance.

Remember the Basic Allowance for Housing you used to get while you were active duty? You can get a Monthly Housing Allowance (MHA) while attending college classes when you use your Post 9/11 GI Bill! Even if you are taking online courses, you can still receive up to $684 a month in MHA. The Post 9/11 GI Bill also covers tuition and fees, and even provides an annual stipend of up to $1000 for books and supplies.

Applying for benefits is easier than I thought it would be.

I won’t say that the application is a short one, but Department of Veterans Affairs has a tool called the Veterans On-Line Application (VONAPP) that you can use to apply for your education benefits and many other veteran benefits as well. Also, by using this tool, your application is sent directly to the VA office with jurisdiction over your application, and processing will begin as soon as possible. Keep in mind that the VONAPP is specifically for aid from the Department of Veterans Affairs. In order to qualify for Pell Grants, Stafford Loans and other forms of federal student aid, you still need to fill out the FAFSA.

Transitioning from military to civilian life can be a bit difficult. However, with the help of Federal Student Aid and the Post 9/11 GI Bill, paying for my college didn’t have to be. It doesn’t have to be for you either. You have devoted years of your life to serving your country; now you can take advantage of a few of the benefits that you have earned. Your military service is appreciated. Happy Veterans Day.

Dominique Ramirez is a New Media Analyst at Federal Student Aid and a Lieutenant in the United States Navy Reserve

Dallas Delivers: Insights from the Trenches

My recent visit to El Centro College (part of the Dallas County Community College District) stood in sharp contrast to the sweltering 113-degree temperature reflected on my rental car thermometer.  The El Centro visit – which included a campus tour and a College Affordability Summit – reinforced three key themes within the President and the Department of Education’s post-secondary educational agenda: (1) college affordability; (2) career readiness and educational opportunity linked to employability; and (3) vulnerable student success, including America’s returning Veterans who pursue further education.

Paul McCarthy, El Centro College’s president since 2008, took me on a campus tour before the actual Summit launched. I walked through the College’s newly renovated building dedicated to the health professions that included state-of-the-art simulation laboratories.  I saw a group of students learning to be highly employable invasive cardiovascular technologists. I observed the Food and Hospitality Institute where students learn to design and cook meals and bake; they also run a small restaurant on campus that can be frequented at low cost by the campus and wider Dallas community.  This tour punctuated the College’s effort – similar to that on a growing number of campuses — to provide a meaningful set of engaged educational opportunities for their growing student population through degrees and certificates that can lead to employment.

A Dart train

El Centro helps its students get to and from school by providing DART passes.

One key initiative at the College is a program to facilitate travel to and from the College. With a diverse population of low-income students and no College provided parking on the main campus, the College provides each student registered for at least six credits with a free DART card that enables that student to use the Dallas area rapid transportation system to get to/from campus.  Students can also use the card to get to and from work and for personal travel including evenings and weekends.  While the College pays for these cards (at discounted rates from the city transportation authority), the benefits to students vastly outweigh the costs, and this program helps students who might otherwise not be able to pursue or continue their education to progress to and through college affordably.  A similar benefit is offered, with positive results, in the ASAP initiative within the CUNY system.

One other topic explored in depth at the Summit was the College’s effort to provide educational opportunities that will meet the needs of their growing Veteran population.  The conversation demonstrated how the Senior Leaders are deeply aware of the challenges Veterans face when they return to civilian life; the College is engaged in efforts to provide added support systems and faculty and staff training opportunities to foster Veteran success at El Centro. Two of the College’s leaders will be participating in the upcoming August 1st convening to be held at the Department of Education on best practices for Veteran students on America’s campuses, based on the lessons learned from the Department’s Veteran Center of Excellence FIPSE grantees.

In short, the Dallas June day’s soaring heat was well matched by soaring efforts in support of the President’s 2020 goal of getting more and more Americans to progress to and through post-secondary education.

Karen Gross is a senior policy advisor at the U.S. Department of Education

Joining Forces

“This is a challenge to every segment of American society not to simply say thank you but to mobilize, take action and make a real commitment to supporting our military families.” said First Lady Michelle Obama at the launch of a new national initiative called Joining Forces on Tuesday. The initiative provides all Americans with new ways to support and show gratitude to America’s service members and their families. Secretary Duncan, President Obama, Vice President Biden and Dr. Jill Biden joined the First Lady in announcing the new initiative.

By working with communities, non-profits, businesses, charitable organizations and faith based institutions, Joining Forces aims to ensure military families have the education, employment and healthcare support they have earned.

For more information on how you can share messages of thanks, get involved, and share your own story of military service visit joiningforces.gov. You can also watch a video from the First Lady and Dr. Biden announcing the Joining Forces initiative.

Earlier this year, Secretary Duncan noted that ED is “committed to providing children of military families the support and education they need to thrive, as well as expanding educational opportunities for military spouses and veterans.” ED has created a one-stop “shop” Military Families and Veterans web page that provides information on educational benefits and programs available through the Department of Education.

Final Community College Regional Summit Focuses on Veterans, Military Members and Families

Tomorrow, April 15, ED will hold its fourth and final Community College Regional Summit at San Diego City College in San Diego, Calif. The focus of this one-day event is on Exemplary Programs for Veterans, Military Members, and Families, and will bring together federal, labor, industry and philanthropic partners to discuss how each entity can support local community college efforts to meet the President’s goal of having the best-educated workforce and the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020.

Other topics to be discussed at the summit include solutions and promising practices in college completion, developmental education, industry-education partnerships, services to military service-members and veterans, transitioning adults to community colleges, and successful transfer programs to four year colleges and universities. The Summit will also provide a forum to identify local, state and national recommendations for increasing community college completion in order to meet the President’s 2020 goal.

Join us at 12:00 PM EDT on April 15, 2011 for a LIVE webcast of the summit (link will become active when the summit begins).