Promising Practices

Promising Best Practices Research Results

As the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq come to a close many who have served in the U.S. military will begin their transition home and readjustment to civilian life. For many, this will mean enrolling in a higher education institution, using their earned education benefits.

The pending influx of student veterans means that higher education must become aware of the special needs of this population, become more veteran friendly, and develop competency in veteran culture.

The aim of this research is to compile a list of national higher education promising best practices, to assist institutions to better understand how they can effectively serve their student veterans.

From Timm Lovitt's Promising Best Practices: Veteran-Supportive Institutions of Higher Education in King County (Veterans Training Support Center, 2013). See the full report: download pdf, 99 pages

Promising Practices

1. Veterans in Your Strategic Plan

Incorporate veterans and military family members into the institution’s long-term strategic plan.

Promising Practice

There has been a significant amount of veterans enrolled in higher education since the end of World War II. This is because one of the main benefits that a service member earns is an education award. Commonly known as the government issued (G.I.) Bill, it allows veterans the opportunity to go to college for free, or at a reduced rate. In the past ten years there have been over 2.5 million men and women who have earned the G.I. Bill. Many of them are, or will be soon, transitioning out of the military and pursuing a degree in higher education. Many institutions have recognized this fact and have incorporated veterans and military families into their long-term strategic plans. Doing so delivers the message that the institution is committed to being veteran-supportive for years to come.

Model of Practice

Edmonds Community College has recently made veterans a part of their long-term plans. The institution has vowed to create an entire veterans program, complete with a veteran’s resource center and a director of veteran’s services. As a part of this effort they have set the strategic goal of raising $1 million dollars to start this program and to fully fund it for many years to come.

2. Veterans Advisory Committee

Create a veteran’s advisory committee to help direct institutional policies, programs, and services.

Promising Practice

Creating a veteran-supportive institution is a complex and comprehensive endeavor. It involves crafting a strategic plan, establishing metrics and collecting data, and facilitating collaboration between numerous departments. Often times these efforts are completed without staffing. Many institutions have found a way around this by forming a veteran’s advisory committee. These committees are made up of individuals from various departments and positions, and are responsible for helping the institution move towards becoming a more veteran-supportive institution. Below is a list of suggested committee members.

Ideal Advisory Committee Members

Admissions Officer, Assistant Director of Development, Certifying Official, Dean(s) of Academic Program, Director of Counseling Services, Director of Student Programing, Disability Services Officer, Faculty Member(s), Military Family Member, Registrar’s Assistant, Student Veteran (both man and women representative), Vice-President for Student Services.

3. Military Service on Enrollment Forms

Ask about ‘prior military service’ on enrollment forms.

Promising Practice

Most institutions of higher education already ask incoming students about possible veteran status. This is because some grants ask for the data, or the institution has set a strategic goal that requires this kind of information. However, it should be noted, that not everyone who has served in the military identifies themselves as a veteran. This is because the term ‘veteran’ can be confusing, even to those who have served. There are some agencies that define veteran status by length of service, some by condition of discharge status, and others by location or duty station. Therefore, it is becoming more common for institutions to simply ask incoming students about ‘prior military service’ on admissions and/or enrollment forms. This allows those who have served in the military, but do not consider themselves to be veterans, to identify themselves and provides more accurate data to the institution.

Example of Reframed Screening Question

  • Have you ever served in the military (Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marines, Navy, National Guard or Reserve components)?
  • Has an immediate family member ever served in the military (father, mother, brother, sister, partner, son, daughter)?


4. Tracking Veteran-Specific Data

Track veteran-specific data and use it to help develop policies, programs, and services.

Promising Practice

One of the most critical pieces in becoming a more veteran-supportive campus is being able to track and measure progress. Progress is a measurement of efficiency, and is needed in order to justify an increase, and/or sustain, in the allocation of resources. Without the ability to objectively analyze programs designed for veterans and/or military families the institution won’t be able to determine if their efforts are having an impact. Therefore, it is essential that institutions analyze what type of data is currently being collected and then determine if they need to add additional areas that are being tracked.

Key Pieces of Data to be Tracked

  • Total number of veterans currently enrolled in courses
  • Total number of veterans collecting education benefits
  • Total number of military family members currently enrolled in courses
  • Total number of military family members collecting education benefits
  • Number of veterans enrolled in each academic program
  • Total number of military family members enrolled in each academic program
  • Total number of veterans accessing different academic resources and services (disability services, tutoring services, writing center, counseling services, etc.)
  • Retention rates for veterans and military family members
  • Graduation rates for veterans and military family members

5. Veteran Cultural Competency Training
Attend veteran cultural competency trainings and learn about the invisible wounds.

Promising Practice

Many veterans and military family members deal with different issues than a lot of traditional students do. Some of these issues may include: being a first-generation college student, having to relearn successful studying habits, adjusting from service member to student, becoming accustomed to physical injuries, and living with invisible injuries. These issues are fairly complex and can have a significant impact on their transition onto campus and into the academic environment. It is important to learn about the issues they face from subject matter experts. Building your cultural competency about veterans and military family members will help ensure that you and your institution are better equipped to serve them effectively.

General Areas of Competence

Veteran and Military Culture, Women Veterans, Post-Traumatic Stress, Traumatic Brain Injury, Mild Traumatic Brain Injury, Military Sexual Trauma, Communication with Veterans, Accommodating the Invisible Injuries, Impact of Deployment on Military Families, Employment for Veterans, Crisis Intervention, Suicide Prevention.

6. Annual Veteran-Awareness Training

Encourage faculty and staff to attend annual trainings on veteran-related matters.

Promising Practice

Going to trainings on veteran-related issues is important. It helps build up cultural competency about veterans and military family members and ensures that the campus is better equipped to serve them effectively; however, it can be difficult finding time to attend such trainings. Therefore it is recommended that institutions provide additional incentives to encourage faculty and staff to take advantage of available opportunities. These incentives could include: encouragement from department head or supervisor, continuing education (or some other professional development) credit, lunch and/or refreshments, or recognition from campus leadership.

7. Veteran Friendly Signs & Symbols

Welcome and recognize veterans by using familiar signs and symbols.

Promising Practice

Transitioning to a new environment can be quite overwhelming. One must learn where various offices and services are located, figure out key points-of-contact, and try to learn about the different policies in place. For veterans this transition can be exceptionally difficult, as most of their questions and issues, while in the military, are taken care of in one centrally-located place. Therefore it is recommended that institutions identify key locations on campus with familiar signs and symbols. This will help veterans identify places on campus that can help point them in the right direction.

Model of Practice

The following example comes from Cascadia Community College. They welcome student veterans to their veteran’s center by using the five service flags for each branch of the military.

9. Avoid Isolating Your Veterans
Recognize that criticism of the military can be taken personally by student veterans and cause them to feel isolated.

Promising Practice

While sharing our personal and political beliefs is an important part of the higher education experience, as it helps us create a more informed understanding of the world, staff and faculty must be aware that there are many instances in which these beliefs can be taken as a personal insult. This is especially true when it comes to topics like the military and war. Some opinions can cause veterans and/or military family members to feel isolated from others. When students begin to feel isolated, they are less likely to stay engaged with the content and their performance will suffer. Therefore it is important for staff and faculty to recognize the signs when this happens and to possibly reach out to them in private if deemed appropriate.

10. Annual Student-Veteran Focus Groups
Identify the needs of student veterans by conducting annual focus groups.

Promising Practice

Each campus is different in terms of student populations and their needs. Some campuses have higher numbers of veterans and military family members attending and some only have a few. What works on one campus may not work on another; there is no cookie cutter mold. Therefore it is highly recommended that institutions take the time each year to sit down with their student veterans and listen to their needs. This can be done through formal, or informal, focus groups. By giving the students a chance to express their needs the institution is gaining a more informed perspective on what will have the greatest impact, in terms of what is offered. Institutions can then decide on priority areas to focus on and increase the impact of their efforts.

Examples of Possible Focus Group Questions

  • What were some of the factors that made you want to attend courses at our institution?
  • Before coming to our institution, did you visit our website?
  • Did the website contain most of the information you needed in order to make to decision?
  • As a student veteran, how well do you feel supported by the institution?
  • Are you aware of the various services that are available to you on campus (writing center, tutoring services, disability service, etc.)?
  • In your opinion, what are some areas that the institution can better support you as a student and as a veteran?


King County Institutions Implementing Practice
Central Washington University, Lake Washington Institute of Technology, Renton Technical College, Seattle University.
From Timm Lovitt's Promising Best Practices: Veteran-Supportive Institutions of Higher Education in King County (Veterans Training Support Center, 2013). See the full report: download pdf, 99 pages
Project provided by King County Veterans and Human Services Levy and the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs.