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Opinion

For-profit colleges adapting to serve vets

In his inaugural lecture at the Wilson Center’s Lee Hamilton Lecture Series, then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen said, “I believe that the defining domestic policy challenge of our age will be how we keep faith with this returning generation of young Americans, particularly our wounded warriors, their families, and the families of the fallen.”

Mullen then suggested we can’t simply thank them for their service and wish them a nice life; we need to address their needs for employment and other services. In today’s world, nothing is more important than education. And the bridge between education and employment has never been more connected.

Today, many returning veterans — and even their active-duty colleagues — are pursuing both education and career skills to enhance the transition from war zones to factory floors. While all sectors of higher education are engaged in this noble work, our nation’s private career-colleges lead this effort simply because our schedules and our academic delivery fit the needs of today’s veteran. While such schools serve 13 percent of the nation’s postsecondary students, we are honored to serve 26 percent of veterans. More than 325,000 military and veteran students, their spouses and dependents choose private-sector colleges and universities to pave the path toward full and meaningful employment in America’s private sector.

We are proud of this service. It reflects the best of innovation in higher education to design and deliver academic learning in ways that meets the students’ needs. But we must “keep faith” with these military and veteran students by insuring that the quality of their learning is of the highest value — in every sense.

Yes, there have been isolated stories of military and veteran students not served properly in our schools, and in every postsecondary institution. And one veteran improperly served is one too many!

So during last year’s political and policy debates about military and veteran education on Capitol Hill, our sector made five commitments for military and veteran education. The most significant was the creation of a blue-ribbon task force to develop a set of best practices for military and veteran students. The panel was composed of institutional leaders of campus military programs, state leaders and representatives of veteran service organizations who served as special advisers with the sole purpose of establishing a set of best practices recommendations.

Our soldiers are smart people. They don’t need to be controlled, but they deserve full and accurate information. Thus, the best practices begin with a strong commitment to providing consumer information ranging from accreditation to credit transfer; occupational earnings to academic costs. Every student, not just the military or veteran student, should have access to such data before he or she chooses his or her college or university.

But enrolling military or veteran students must be seen as only the first step. Academic and student services are essential for retention, completion and graduation. Depending upon the size of the school and the number of military and veteran students enrolled, we offer size-appropriate recommendations for faculty training, student mentoring, and even a veteran student ombudsman to resolve any issues that arise during the academic year.

Many of our schools with larger numbers of military and veteran students are now establishing an office of military and veterans affairs, and creating a military student center to serve as the hub guiding the day-to-day questions of the military and veteran student. And in the end, we recognize that even our best work today doesn’t give us the information on outcomes we seek. Thus, we encourage new tracking data and research related to outcomes in ways that can inform us all — veterans, current and future students, school administrators, and even our policymakers — in keeping faith and pace with the changing demands of appropriate education services.

All of higher education should carefully review these recommendations for use in their service to those who have already served. A recent national survey by Gallup and The Lumina Foundation found that 71 percent of Americans believe postsecondary education is important for jobs and financial security. The Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities is committed to promoting these best practices, both to help veterans obtain such jobs and because they are simply the right things to do.

Former Rep. Steve Gunderson, R-Wis., is president and chief executive officer of the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities.
 

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