(Above) James Jackson registers for classes at a veterans priority registration event at Spring Creek Campus. The events are just some of the benefits available to veterans at the college.
Rushing between advising tables, registration computers and waiting students, Shayne Brown was a busy man.
Collin College’s Veterans Transition Specialist, Brown was helping coordinate one of three veterans priority registration days, one on each of the district’s main campuses in late October. The registration events gathered academic and financial aid advisors together into a one-stop shop, helping to streamline the process for former and active duty service men and women, and their family members, about 1,200 of whom attend the college.
The events are just one of the measures Collin College has implemented to help veterans chart a path in higher education. The district works diligently to ensure a smooth transition from military life to college studies, from the district’s Veterans Services Office and website (www.collin.edu/studentresources/veteransresources ) with information on financial aid, Veterans Affairs education benefits, personal counseling and other areas of veteran interest, to organizations like the Student Veterans of America. And then there is Brown and the 2016 Veteran Priority Advising Team, who work one-on-one with veterans to make sure they are following a process that can seem foreign to people who have lived a much more regimented life.
“I think that when (student veterans) get here, they can be slightly overwhelmed,” he said, standing near the door, waiting to assist the next veteran in line. “The whole process is different, going from being told what to do, when to do it and how to do it, to all of a sudden, having to take care of everything yourself. Our goal here is to get them through the front door, show them how to do everything and, maybe on the next go round, they will be able to do everything for themselves.”
He said that the attention being paid to the beginning steps at Collin will pay off later if the students choose to go to a four-year university where programs like this one may not be as accessible.
That the one-on-one advising is coming from someone who has been in a similar situation means a lot, according to James Jackson, a business administration/management student registering at the Spring Creek Campus event and starting in the spring.
“I think it is very beneficial to veterans, especially if they haven’t been in school before,” Jackson said. “If they don’t have that experience, it is good to have someone here who knows about it and can relate to us being veterans. Being able to cross those lines is crucial. It makes the process simpler.”
That attention to veterans’ needs doesn’t end when they are registered for classes, however. The district’s efforts also extend into the classroom, with veteran-centered courses offered each semester. The classes are “military-friendly” with professors who are aware of special circumstances such as impending deployment of students, IRR status, VA regulations and GI Bill education benefits.
Students are also encouraged to use the Veterans Resource Center and its webpage to access external resources and community partners, as well as connecting with the Student Veterans of America.
A veteran student who only wanted to be identified as April E. said she was glad that the staff and faculty work to make veterans feel comfortable.
“Welcoming, I guess would be a good word to use,” April said. “The people I’ve spoken to were very knowledgeable and I like that they honor veterans and think of veterans first.”
She said she was even approached out of the blue to take part in Student Veterans of America’s Collin chapter.
“This woman saw my book bag on the floor and asked me if I was a veteran,” April said. “She’s emailed information, but I haven’t been able to make those meetings yet. I do like the fact that they seek out people.”
Meredith Martin, faculty advisor for the SVA, said the student organization can be a great resource for student veterans to find one another.
“There is camaraderie, a connection,” she said. “When you are on campus, there is someone who had the same type of experience.”
The SVA also offers its members a way to learn about events on campus that are relevant to veterans, including tutoring sessions and monthly SVA meetings, which Martin described as “coffee and donut and shop talk.” The organization’s efforts are all in service of a greater purpose, according to Martin.
“The goal here is ‘To, Through and Beyond,’” she said echoing the focus of the American Council on Education Veterans Advising Symposium in 2016. “What we promote with the SVA is coming to Collin, getting connected to our college and community resources, completing your core or your associate degree and going on to complete a bachelor’s degree. We want them to utilize GI Bill benefits to their maximum.”
Collin College’s commitment to military service members hasn’t gone unnoticed. The college was recently chosen as a “Top School” in the 2017 Military Advanced Education & Transition (MAE&T) Guide to Colleges and Universities research study. This is the fifth consecutive year that Collin College has received the honor. The guide is a research tool for service members, education services officers and transition officers. Schools are evaluated by their achievement in military culture, financial aid, flexibility, general support services, on-campus support and online support services.
Last year, the college was named a “Military Friendly® School” by Victory Media and was honored as a “2016 Best for Vets College” for the second year in a row by Military Times. Notifications for those accolades had not been received at press time.