Attracting heroes to Pennsylvania colleges
● By Steven Hoffman
I recently met with officials from the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) to discuss what we are doing to attract veterans and their families to Pennsylvania colleges and universities. There are so many wonderful opportunities for veterans and their families at the 14 universities that comprise PASSHE.
I applaud the efforts that the higher education communities are making to serve the veterans of our great country. Every college offers its own package of benefits for veterans and their families; some of those benefits are particularly noteworthy.
For example, East Stroudsburg University opened a Student Veterans Center in spring 2013. The center processes all veteran education benefits including Federal Tuition Assistance, the Educational Assistance Program and GI Bill. It also hosts a series of weekly meetings for veterans on a variety of topics ranging from employment opportunities to health care.
Kutztown University offers “Green Zone” training to faculty, staff and students to become knowledgeable about issues faced by military-affiliated students and the resources available to them. Participants who complete the Green Zone training agree to become battle buddies (partners) to military-affiliated students, which helps them to succeed academically.
Slippery Rock University received a $54,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for an equine-assisted recreation program, which provides recreational therapy to veterans at the university’s Storm Harbor Equestrian Center.
West Chester University, in the 160th District, also boasts incredible veteran offerings. It serves as the North Atlantic Region office of Troops to Teachers, a federally funded Department of Defense program that helps eligible military personnel transition into careers as K-12 public or charter school teachers. The program provides personalized counseling and referral assistance to all military members, past or present. Troops to Teachers registration is open to all veterans who have served honorably, regardless of time in service, and who have an interest in teaching in qualified schools.
West Chester also provides a variety of services through its Veterans Center and the Student Veterans Group, which serves as an open forum for student veterans to come together and discuss issues related to being a veteran, a student and everything that goes in between.
The PASSHE universities have truly demonstrated the importance veterans have in their communities by the many programs that have been created to entice them, and Victory Media noticed.
Eleven state system universities, including West Chester University, were named “Military Friendly Schools” by Victory Media this year. This designation is awarded annually to only the top 20 percent of colleges, universities and trade schools in the country in recognition for their efforts to ensure the academic success of military service members, veterans and their spouses. There are a number of universities that have received this designation multiple years in a row.
Five state system universities participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program, which allows U.S. colleges to voluntarily enter into an agreement with the Veterans Administration to provide special tuition assistance to military veterans. West Chester is also part of this program.
For a full list of PASSHE universities that are considered Military Friendly Schools and that participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program, please visit my website at www.SteveBarrar.com.
All 14 universities provide military veterans with preference in course scheduling, in accordance with legislation that I cosponsored was subsequently signed into law. They are also working to offer in-state tuition rates to qualified veterans and their dependents, regardless of state residency status under the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act. This would bring them into compliance with my House Bill 131, which was approved by the state House of Representatives and is now awaiting Senate action.
The offerings our state system universities have available for our veterans and their families are remarkable. But just as regular civilians continue to pledge their lives to defend our freedom, we must continue to provide new benefits for veterans and their families who are pursuing their education at one of our state system universities. It’s our duty to provide these heroes with every advantage possible.