Proposed bipartisan legislation would provide funding that allows higher education institutions to establish campus centers designed to help student-veterans as they transition to civilian life, postsecondary education, and the workforce.
“We owe our veterans an immense debt of gratitude for the sacrifices they have made, and the least we can do is to make sure they are taken care of when they return home,” U.S. Senator Jacky Rosen, a Democrat from Nevada who co-sponsored the Senate bill, wrote in a statement.
Identical bills, known collectively as the Veteran Education Empowerment Act, have been filed in the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives, with support from both Democratic and Republican lawmakers.
As of early June, the bills were under review by the Committees on Veterans’ Affairs in both houses. If passed, the legislation would provide four-year grants of up to $500,000 that colleges and universities would use to create or bolster existing student-veteran centers on campus.
“Far too often, crucial resources and information are scattered between various administrative offices that remain disparate and inaccessible,” says Donald Franklin, legislative director of the Veterans Education Project. “Veteran students already face significant barriers to success as they pursue postsecondary education — they are often older, with families, and demanding fiscal obligations — that tend to diminish enrollment and weigh on persistence.”
In general, these centers provide mentorship, networking, career development, and tutoring opportunities and services. They also serve as spaces for student-veterans to meet and connect with each other, study, and learn more about outside services and benefits. Such centers lead to a greater sense of belonging and improved recruitment, retention, and graduation rates, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
“Veteran students already face significant barriers to success as they pursue postsecondary education — they are often older, with families and demanding fiscal obligations — that tend to diminish enrollment and weigh on persistence.”
These support systems are especially important given that 62 percent of student-veterans are first generation, according to federal statistics. Also, a large majority, approximately 85 percent, are ages 24 to 40, and nearly half are married and/or have children.
“As a mother of a U.S. Marine war veteran, I’ve seen firsthand the adjustment from military to civilian life,” U.S. Representative Lois Frankel, a Democrat from Florida who co-sponsored the House bill, wrote in a statement. “Providing a welcoming environment on college campuses to respond to veterans’ unique transition puts them on the path to their new journey.”
To utilize the funding, colleges and universities are required to partner with local workforce development organizations to assist student-veterans with career guidance and networking, hire veterans to staff the centers, and provide mental health counseling options to them and their families. If approved, the funding will be distributed equitably based on institution size, geographic location, and across both urban and rural communities. For institutions creating a student-veteran center from scratch, the bills require that they present sustainability plans to demonstrate the facilities will operate past the four-year grant period.●
This article was published in our July/August 2023 issue.