Caleb S. Cage: Higher education is key for veterans
Last week, President Barack Obama recognized Western Nevada College when he released his “eight keys to success” for student veterans.
He noted that at “Western Nevada College, for example, the school hosts a ‘Veterans Orientation’ to make sure returning service members begin college on the right track, and that every veteran has a counselor assigned to work with him or her on adjusting to the classroom environment, performance expectations, personal challenges and program completion.”
The recognition is appreciated, and more developments to improve success for student veterans are in the works.
The president’s remarks represent a nationwide effort aimed at ensuring all veterans can reintegrate. Veterans have been eligible for education benefits such as the Montgomery GI Bill, and today’s veterans have received increased benefits under the Post-9/11 GI Bill. As some experts in the field have noted, for veterans it is seldom a question of access to higher-education opportunities, but a question of success once the veteran or family member makes the transition into academic life. That is what these efforts are aimed at addressing.
In Nevada, we have recognized the issues that transitioning veterans face and have worked to support their success. The Nevada Office of Veterans Services — which has historically not been directly involved in veteran-education benefits — has worked with students, legislators and higher-education leadership to get a better handle on how best to serve these veterans. But, as the president pointed out, the really valuable and effective work is being done at the institutional level.
Last year, during the beginning stages of our Green Zone Initiative effort, we worked to increase collaboration among the Legislature, the system of higher education, institutions of higher learning and communities. Our efforts resulted in the development of recommendations to Nevada’s schools that could increase student success. We received the support of Chancellor Dan Klaich, and we put together a working group to ensure we could work to implement the recommendations.
As I mentioned, the majority of the work is happening within the institutions in our state. Veteran-services staffs at our schools have developed models using improved staffing structures, local advisory groups, volunteers and student veterans organizations to reach their local goals. If the president’s “eight keys to success” set the high-level vision for the nation, these people are performing the hands-on work.
On the same day that the president announced his “eight keys to success,” Gov. Brian Sandoval signed an important executive order that will go a long way toward serving student veterans in our schools. The order creates the Student Veterans Advisory Council, which will be made up of veteran students of Nevada’s public and private schools, as well as other appointees. It will focus on developing recommendations that improve student success. There have been efforts to engage student veterans on our campuses in the past, some involving surveys and scholarly research, but this will be the first time student veterans themselves get to develop recommendations for the best ways to serve student veterans at our schools.
All of this, from the national level to the local and institutional levels, shows the dedication toward ensuring that our veterans are able to enjoy the higher-education benefits they have earned. More important, it shows the nationwide commitment to ensuring that those who serve in our military can reintegrate. From the president and governor down to the local communities, it seems that all agree that this is a crucial focus for our systems to embrace.
Caleb S. Cage is the director of Military and Veterans Policy for Gov. Brian Sandoval’s office. You can follow his efforts at http://www.GreenZoneNetwork.org.