Transitioning to college can be an overwhelming and confusing time for many students, as they learn to live independently and navigate managing their own finances. But for student veterans transitioning back into civilian life – and into college life – the process is fraught with an entirely different set of challenges.
In a session on Tuesday morning, presenters discussed the unique obstacles that student veterans face, and how the financial aid office can help ease the process, making it more likely that veteran students will remain enrolled in school and succeed.
“I experienced such a transition that others didn’t quite experience,” SGT. Matisa Schraven, a senior federal compliance analyst for the Higher Education Loan Authority of the State of Missouri (MOHELA), said of her journey from active duty to higher education. “It’s a totally different perspective for us because we’re not the typical, traditional student with mountains of help all around us.”
Many student veterans, Schraven explained, entered the military immediately after high school and are older and financially independent when they decide to go back to school. But despite the fact that they are considered independent in a sense, they haven’t had the help and guidance that other “traditional” students have, and might be overlooked because financial aid professionals and others on college campuses assume they know how to navigate the process on their own.
“From a student veteran perspective it’s always best to have something that is very easy to do, inclusive, interactive,” Schraven said. “I was independent in a sense, but in another way I had no idea there was another routine there. … That’s also a challenge because we just don’t know. So when we’re standing in front of you, we’re really asking you, ‘What’s next?’ even though we’re 25, 26 years old.”
Billy Davis, associate director of financial aid, communications and enrollment management at Northern Virginia Community College, said that financial troubles aren’t the only things that affect student veterans’ retention.
“Is the real reason that they don’t have money, or that they don’t understand how to fit in or where to fit in? Finances really isn’t as big a piece of the pie as we think,” he said. “Being at an institution where you feel like they care about you carries so much weight. The takeaway here is realizing the biggest pieces of this pie are things we can impact.”
Davis said financial aid offices can take several steps to help student veterans stay in college and succeed, including:
Additionally, Davis said it’s important to coordinate between different offices on campus – the financial aid office, the business office, and the veteran’s office – to break down departmental silos. Re-entry issues for student veterans can also include alcohol abuse, drug abuse, family or marital problems or suicide, and PTSD, Davis said. Financial aid offices should be aware of those issues, and know how to respond.
“We need to be aware of these situations,” Schraven said. “Sometimes they’re not even aware of what they’re experiencing.”
Publication Date: 7/12/2016