Cooperate to Graduate: Supporting Veterans and Serving Military in their Studies

By Scott Dolan, Michael Moran, and William Trevor

Veterans Day always gives us pause to reflect upon the service and sacrifice of our military.  And here at Excelsior College, we take great pride in having the honor to educate so many of our serving men and women, both active and from among the veteran community.

Picture credit: Pixabay (Creative Commons)

In the October 10th edition of Community College Week, the CEO of Inside Track, Pete Wheelan, wrote a great article on overcoming the four myths about military-connected students, and what steps colleges can take to help military-connected students succeed on campus.  The article provides an overview of the four misconceptions about military-connected students, that they:

  • have lower success rates;
  • are less prepared for college;
  • are less open to support; and
  • are outspoken when dissatisfied.

Wheelan does a good job of dispelling these misconceptions, noting that:

  1. military students complete their degrees at similar rates to traditional age students and at much higher rates than post-traditional, working adult students;
  2. that military training and experience helps students develop skills of grit and perseverance, which can be leveraged to promote their success: the challenge is figuring out the best ways to support military-connected students who are balancing work, family, and life, or who are transitioning from the highly-structured military life to the less-structured academic life;
  3. that deficit models of support often create the stigma that interventions or support are being provided to only those that are in need or are going to be unsuccessful; and
  4. that military students often just need guidance on how to constructively express concerns or questions given their training to “fulfill duties no matter how unpleasant or challenging.”

Within the School of Business and Technology at Excelsior College, nearly 72% of students in our business programs are affiliated with the military, either as active members, veterans, or military family members.  A quick glance at the introductions from students in our recently created School of Business and Technology Facebook group drives this point home.   And much like the research cited by Wheelan, our military students succeed at higher rates than their non-military counterparts, based on data from our most recently published retention and completion rates.

At Excelsior College, we may be ahead of the curve with respect to Wheelan’s suggestions for improving our programs that serve military populations.

Below are three ways that Excelsior already incorporates these suggestions and how we strive to continually improve student support for our military-connected students:

  1. Provide Proactive support: Wheelan notes that it is important to create programs right from the point of entry, and here at Excelsior College we have worked with Inside Track to create a coaching model that supports the onboarding of students to the College. The Strong Start Coaching approach is the first point of contact for newly enrolled students, offering coaching services, directing students to orientations and other resources, explaining next steps.  Coaches partner with academic advisors to guide students through the onboarding process.  Students receive an email and a follow-up phone call within 24-48 hours, and all coaches receive military-specific training from the Center for Military and Veteran Education.
    • In addition, the College has an on-line Veterans Center, the Lt. Col Bryant A. Murray Veterans Center, and we have created an online Student Veterans of America (SVA) chapter.  The SVA chapter provides peer-to-peer networks for veterans, supports student success, advocates for student veterans, and provides support with college to career transition.
  2. Reach across departments: At the College, we have a Center for Military and Veteran Education (CMVE), which consists of admissions counselors, academic advisors, and support staff who work closely with military education centers and coordinate military student support services across various departments.  Recently, the School of Business and Technology created a “Lunch and Learn” series in coordination with CMVE.  The series was designed to create awareness of military-specific issues and to provide training on policies that affect military-affiliated students.
    • Throughout the College, departments like Admissions and Financial Aid have dedicated staff to work with military-connected students.  For example, we have a Veterans Education Benefits unit within Financial Aid who are solely dedicated to helping students who use veteran’s benefits.
    • Finally, the college has policies that provide students with flexibility to deal with the challenges of balancing service and college life.  A significant issue many military service members face is the interruption of their academic pursuits due to military deployment.  To assist students who may be deployed during a term, Excelsior College has created a policy granting course extensions due to military deployment and training.  This policy provides students with an option, allowing them to continue their academic progress when faced with this potentially stressful situation.
  3. Give credit for past experience: At Excelsior College, we accept credits from a student’s Joint Services Transcript (Army, Coast Guard, Marines, and, Navy) and Community College of the Air Force Transcripts. Most importantly, we do not limit the credit from these sources if they are degree applicable.  Ultimately, our multiple credit pathways and our minimal residency requirements remove barriers for military-connected students by maximizing their military-related credit and removing barriers to degree completion.

Each of these efforts fits within our model of providing students with flexible pathways to degree completion where students have options to: aggregate credit from other institutions or workplace training, take UExcel exams for credit, or complete courses at Excelsior College.

Given Excelsior’s mission to provide students with open access to high-quality and flexible academic programs, these services have helped us be named Military Times Best for Vet’s college 7 years in a row, and is probably why we rank in the top 15 of institutions with respect to Tuition Assistance dollars received.

Within the School of Business in Technology, we strive to help all students meet their personal, academic, and career goals, but with Veteran’s Day around the corner, we are honored to be recognized for the work that we do with our military-affiliated students.

In conclusion, we wanted to take a moment to thank our active military and veteran student populations for their service, and we promise to heed Mr. Wheelan’s advice to work proactively with our military-connected students to ensure their success today and beyond; because, as we say in the School of Business and Technology: SBT motivates student success, and it is our students’ success that motivates us.

**Special Thanks for Chris Johnson from the Center for Military and Veteran Education, and Glenn Braddock from the Student Success Center for sharing data and information.



Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not represent the views or opinions of my employer.

William Trevor
About William Trevor 17 Articles
Will Trevor is the Faculty Program Director for Marketing in the School of Business and Technology, in which role he is responsible for overseeing and developing the college’s marketing programs. He has a background in sales and marketing, where he filled a range of positions encompassing both consumer-to-consumer and business-to-business markets and across a range of industries. His experience spans both agency-side and marketing management roles, which have helped to inform his perspective on marketing from both a practitioner and an academic angle. And as a longtime member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing, he was recently honored to attain the designation of Chartered Marketer. Will has taught in higher education for a number of years and on both sides of the Atlantic: in the UK as a faculty member with the University of Essex Online, Leeds Beckett University, Leeds City College, and Askham Bryan College; and in the USA he has taught for both Excelsior College and the University of the People. In 2013 Will was recognized for his qualifications and experience in the field of higher education and he became a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. From his practical experience in consultancy and market research, Will developed an academic interest in fields of marketing that relate to market research and the role of big data. He also explores issues of consumer behavior and the impact of the evolving field of behavioral economics on the marketing discipline. And his previous experience in sales also fuels an ongoing interest in sales and sales management and the role of sales professionals in a global context and in terms of cross-cultural issues.

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