For many of the 1,130 veterans enrolled at Texas A&M University, adjusting to college life comes with very different hurdles than those faced by traditional undergraduates.
Colonel Jerry Smith ’82 USMC (retired), director of the System Office of Veteran Services, calls them “non-traditional unique students”: they are about a decade older than the typical 18-22 year old student. , nearly half are married, and about 38% of the veteran student population are the first members of their family to attend college. Add to that the difficulties that come with returning to civilian life after serving in the military – on average around six years – while adjusting to a campus environment, and it’s a major transition that presents its own set. unique set of academic challenges, Smith said.
A 2017 report by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs cited a survey that found 37% of part-time student veterans and 16% of full-time students drop out within nine months of enrolling in a college. . Mike Dvoracek, a veteran academic coach at the Academic Success Center, said these are called “stops” – when a non-graduate withdraws or does not continue in class after a semester.
But while shutdowns are common for student veterans across the country, Dvoracek and Smith say a combination of tools, resources and ongoing support has contributed to the success of retaining and training veterans. at Texas A&M. Smith said the retention rate for spring 2022 was 82.7%.
There is not a single “golden key” that can be attributed to the university’s success in this area, Smith said. Rather, it is through a myriad of programs, peer engagement, financial and academic aid, and collaboration between campus offices.
“It’s two different worlds – in the military, the resources to accomplish the mission were handed down to them through their chain of command,” Smith said. “And then they show up here, and everything they need to be successful in their academic mission is on campus, but without the structure. They must learn what they need and where to find it.
Providing students with these resources is the mission of the Don & Ellie Knauss Veteran Resource & Support Center (VRSC), of which Smith is also the director. Established in 2012, the center is dedicated to providing tailored programs and resources for student veterans and their families. Smith said it’s a holistic approach focused on academics, finances, wellness, and career goals that begins when a student applies to Texas A&M and ends when they crosses the stage at the start and is employed in his new career.
Dvoracek also points to VRSC’s “vocational application” mindset that has helped students stay on track as they pursue their goals.
“Everyone works together. We want to talk to these students before they even arrive on campus, and make sure everything is smooth until they get a job,” he said. “It starts with our military admissions team, where they work to get our veteran students into the right major. And then we provide academic and financial support, and a community of peers. Our partnership with the Career Center also makes it possible to find them a job when they leave university.
The VRSC and the Center for Academic Success also worked to identify potential shutdowns. Dvoracek said once a student drops out, it’s hard to determine the reason. “We’re trying to catch up, because we found out after the fact,” he said.
Many times, he said, the military is deployed or activated for missions like hurricane or COVID-19 response. These students may intend to return to campus once they have completed their service. Some students may also leave after struggling to make the academic transition.
Dvoracek said the academic coaching he provides veteran students at VRSC doesn’t differ much from the traditional student population: he works with them on note-taking, study strategies, test preparation, time and other tools. For some, it has been years since they received a formal education. These students may find themselves falling behind in class as they try to catch up on subjects they haven’t studied in years, he said.
Smith said veterans also face the challenge of adapting to a new style of learning.
“In the military, it’s very repetitive, memorization and sort of a checklist,” he said. “Teachers here want them to think, think about theory and analyze. It’s very different and they have to make that mental shift in learning styles.
The VRSC also offers essential resources for dealing with another potential reason for stoppages – finances.
Among the many financial support programs are the Aggie Shields Textbook Lending Library, which provides free textbooks to veterans; the SAVE fund, which provides financial assistance to students in times of crisis or unusual circumstances; and Aggie Rings For Veterans, which Smith says has provided nearly 600 scholarships to help students pay for their Aggie rings. These programs, among others, are funded by donor support — another factor that Smith says plays a major role in the success of the VRSC.
Each part of this vast network of support and services ensures that every student veteran receives the help they need to succeed.
“In the 10 years since the center was established, we’ve achieved more than I expected in terms of progress,” Smith said. “It’s really transformed, and now we’re maintaining this campus as a destination of choice for veterans. And the reason for our success is the extensive network we’ve built with our campus, community, and corporate partners.
Celebrate Veterans Day at Bryan-College Station
Veterans Day Ceremony
Friday, Nov. 11 at 5:30 p.m.
Veterans Park and Sports Complex, 3101 Harvey Road, College Station
For more information, please visit the Brazos Valley Veterans Memorial website.