Idea aims to help veterans stay in school
The Dominion Post
CHARLESTON — WVU has a 73 percent dropout rate for veterans, and university Veterans Advocate Jerry McCarthy proposed an idea Tuesday to help that a bit.
Student-veterans who are called away for weeklong or weekend Reserve duty, or for short National Guard deployments, often find themselves unable to complete their class work, and too often find professors are unwilling to work with them.
McCarthy is developing a military leave-of-absence policy for WVU, and he told the Select Committee on Veterans’ Affairs he would like to see legislation to establish a policy statewide.
Skip Gebhart, Higher Education Policy Commission administrator for veterans education and training, agreed, saying most schools have something, but they’re “all over the board” and sometimes too vague to be helpful.
Even at a single institution, McCarthy said, there are inconsistencies among professors and schools.
McCarthy said for the 2011-’12 school year, 848 students attended via Veterans Affairs benefits — 202 of them in the Reserves or National Guard, 269 dependents of veterans, the rest in the regular armed forces. For fall 2012, 291 more are coming.
Gebhart said 15,004 students receiving VA benefits were enrolled statewide — 12,069 of them in “proprietary” for-profit schools.
Their choice to serve “shouldn’t impede their academic progress,” he said.
Failure to get credit because they’re called away is one of the obstacles leading to a 27 percent graduation rate, compared to 56 percent for all students, he said. Those numbers are typical for a university of WVU’s size and caliber.
The state needs a law outlining the appropriate steps schools should take — with some flex for each school’s needs — to accommodate vets needing short-term leave, McCarthy said. Policies should include guidelines for make-up work.
Committee co-chairman Sen. Erik Wells, D-Kanawha, asked McCarthy about professors’ attitudes toward accepting this kind of policy. McCarthy replied it’s taken him five years just to get this far — permission to formulate a policy.
Among the reasons, McCarthy said, is professors not wanting to set a precedent for accommodating special groups. The profs don’t understand the special position veterans hold.
Wells told McCarthy and Gebhart they should expect to see some legislation on this topic during the 2013 session, which starts in February.