CORVALLIS, Ore. – With improved educational benefits and after years of conflict in the Middle East, a flood of veterans are heading to college in numbers that surpass those of recent history.
Oregon State University has 1,025 students who are receiving veteran educational benefits, a new record and the most of any university in Oregon. They now account for about one out of every 25 students at OSU, and a range of programs are being created or expanded to help facilitate this stream of incoming veterans.
“I’ve talked to counterparts all over the country and this is clearly a national trend,” said Gus Bedwell, the OSU veteran resources coordinator. “OSU has always had quite a few veteran students, but right now we’re almost triple the number of five years ago. Other institutions are also seeing three to four times as many veterans as they used to.”
Part of the increase, officials say, is due to an expansion of educational benefits that were put in place in the early 2000s, including some that veteran dependents and spouses can use. A weak economy also made it an opportune time for veterans to attend college, just like many other students.
OSU has responded with renewed efforts to pave the way for returning veterans, programs to cut through federal bureaucracy, and make sure the students get both the personal and professional help they need.
Two new initiatives at OSU are an example. A Student Health Services Veterans Work Group is helping to ensure treatment of the full range of health concerns that veterans face, including access to some local services. And a Veterans Work Group focuses much of its efforts on academic and programmatic support. This group and other officials have trained advisers, worked to expedite the transfer of military transcripts to academia, and helped keep students informed during the recent government shutdown.
A website at http://oregonstate.edu/veterans/home/ helps guide veterans, and a veterans lounge in the OSU Memorial Union allows veterans an opportunity to meet and build their community in a casual setting.
“OSU has really made an effort to understand the obstacles veterans face and help work around them,” Bedwell said.
For instance, he said, the federal government is often slow at making veteran educational benefit payments. Officials know the money will come, but in the meantime it can cost students penalties, interest, and create “holds” that interfere with course registration. So the university created a mechanism to avoid these holds, allow regular progress with an educational program, and refund any penalties once the government payments are made. This program is called the “Goodwill Interest Waiver.”
The university’s nationally recognized program of distance education, E-Campus, is also a favorite with many veterans. They can take courses while living literally anywhere in the world and earn degrees in a wide range of fields.
OSU, with its origin as a land grant college, had a mandate under the Morrill Act of 1862 to “include military tactics” as part of its educational program, and the university has always been tuned to the needs of veterans.
It’s one of a limited number of schools that hosts all four branches of the Reserve Officers Training Corp, and its student center, the Memorial Union, was named to help honor veterans, many of them returned from World War I. OSU has earned the title of “Military Friendly School” by GI Jobs several years in a row.