The University of Arizona is committed to helping student veterans pursuing higher education, a UA official told a congressional subcommittee today.
Melissa Vito, senior vice president for student affairs and enrollment management and vice provost for academic initiatives and student success, testified before the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity, sharing with subcommittee members and other panelists how the UA has increased its student veteran services over the last several years.
"At the University of Arizona, we recognize and appreciate the commitment and sacrifices made by our men and women who serve and have served in the armed forces, and are committed to making a college education a reality," Vito told the subcommittee, which invited the UA to participate in the hearing, titled "Defining and Improving Success for Student Veterans." (The full text of Vito's testimony is available here.)
Of the 40,621 students attending the UA, 1,317 are veterans. Between 2008 and 2013, the student veteran population doubled from 178 to 355 and usage of the center the UA created for veterans – called the Veterans Education and Transition Services Center – increased by 31 percent from fall 2012 to fall 2013, to more than 10,000 visits during that academic year.
The VETS Center was opened in 2008 to provide services specifically for student veterans. Originally located in Old Main, it moved to the Student Union Memorial Center in 2009 as demand rose.
The UA opened a second VETS Center on April 9 at the Arizona Health Sciences Center. The first of its kind in the nation, the new center provides support for veterans who are working toward degrees in health sciences.
"The VETS Centers offer individualized service to improve the experience of all veterans attending the University of Arizona," Vito said. "We provide a step-by-step 'in-processing' or 'on-boarding' guidance for student veterans who are applying or have been recently admitted to the institution. The VETS Centers foster a USO atmosphere, allowing veterans to study, relax and engage with other student veterans who have walked in their same boots."
Vito also discussed the UA's Disability Resource Center, which provides transitional resources to veterans. It received a congressionally directed Department of Education grant in 2008 and "since then has been a leader for disabled veterans in higher education, producing research-based best practices for use on college campuses," Vito said.
In 2012, the UA Department of Disability Studies in the College of Education, the Disability Resource Center and the UA's Veterans Education and Transition Services office obtained a grant from the Paralyzed Veterans of America to design an adaptive athletics and college learning camp for veterans with spinal cord injuries.
"Building upon the success of the project, we obtained another grant in 2014-2015 to replicate the college-learning component including the VETS Center and the Supportive Education for Returning Veterans curriculum," Vito said.
The classes within the SERV curriculum are compatible with the GI Bill and help new student veterans learn to navigate campus and integrate their military experiences into their college experiences. They are only offered to veterans.
The SERV program, Vito said, "has resulted in overall retention rates of over 90 percent for those student veterans enrolled in SERV classes versus 70 to 80 percent retention for those who have not taken SERV classes."
She also credited the efforts of the DRC for its research and engagement with student veterans. The center "has expanded our understanding that many veterans arrive on campus with a new injury or disability, and are often unfamiliar with the resources available to them," Vito said.
"As we explore what measures still need to be taken to ensure our student veterans are accomplishing their academic goals, I ask you to consider that the first six months of transition are crucial, and it is exactly that transition our Supportive Education for Returning Veterans program takes aim at addressing," Vito said.
Other officials who testified included: Michael Dakduk, vice president of Military and Veterans Affairs with the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities; William Hubbard, vice president of External Affairs with the Student Veterans of America; Ricardo Torres, president and CEO of the National Student Clearinghouse; and Thomas Ross, president of the University of North Carolina.