Higher education must meet veterans' needs

Higher education mustmeet veterans’ needs

The Vietnam War protests at the University of California, Berkeley, were arguably the most famous of the era. I was there to protest, and then two years later I was in basic training even though I was in graduate school and had a wife and child.

I did my two years, including nearly a year in Vietnam. Although I had protested the war, by the time I finished my tour I came away with an enormous respect for the military and was proud to serve my country. Service members are talented, courageous, disciplined, mission-focused, and patriotic.

When I left the Army, my transition consisted of a steak dinner, a new uniform, a 45-minute lecture from the unit commander that boiled down to “you’re going into civilian life; don’t screw up.” They gave me my remaining salary paid out in cash and put me on a bus to the airport.

Transition out of the military is harder today, but we have all learned a lot since I served and the military offers a wide array of services.

Today, I teach political science at Ashford University, having served as president of the university from 2012 to 2016. A large percentage of my students are active-duty military who fully recognize that education is at the heart of their ability to transition successfully and enter the civilian career ladder. They are determined do it before the end of their military service.

A thoughtful, modern university is aware of the significant number of people coming from the military and provides the appropriate services. At Ashford, our comprehensive approach aligned with our understanding of and commitment to the military provides a rich array of services and support that few universities can manage.

I am proud of how hard Ashford works to serve our active-duty military, transitioning service members, and veterans, from providing the technology and course structure so they can complete their studies from the field — sometimes on the ground in Afghanistan right after completing a mission — to employing specialized personnel trained on how hard it is to be on active duty or transition out, to offering nontraditional credit for military experience through our Prior Learning Assessment program.

Ashford dedicates specialized support staff, many of whom are former service members, to focus on assisting our military students with their often unique education needs. These dedicated staff members serve as subject matter experts in military financial aid options, military deployment policies, and military culture.

The university also provides student veterans with resources and programming inside and outside the classroom to support their educational success. Our CHAMPS peer mentoring program offers a specialized track for military students. This ensures that mentees can be matched with a mentor, fellow veteran, spouse or service member, that understands the struggles associated with transition, the effects of multiple deployments, and other potential challenges unique to the veteran population.

Our career resource center Ashford features personalized resources, like “how to apply to job posting in USA jobs,” spouse networks throughout the country and interview preparation materials. Our Career & Alumni Services department also hosts webinars on a monthly basis, focusing on military specific topics throughout the year. These include tips for transition, how to find a military-friendly employer and how to be comfortable in disclosing and asking your employer for accommodations due to a service-connected disability.

Ashford also has an active Student Veterans Organization (SVO) that is hosted via LinkedIn to meet our students where they are — online. Students know this private group is a safe space and can ask for advice from peers, celebrate each other and network.

My experience in the military has helped me in my career to make sure we pay attention to the needs of the military, which is one of the reasons I have stayed at Ashford so long. I look forward to continuing to help veterans segue into the civilian workforce at this thoughtful organization.

And for those members of the military transitioning today, my advice is to dig deep into what universities can provide — and not just Ashford. Identify yourself and ask for support, because higher education is prepared to serve those who have so bravely served their country.

Dr. Richard Pattenaude,

President Emeritus,Ashford University