UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State has joined 30 other higher education institutions in a commitment to graduating more military veterans as a part of the American Talent Initiative (ATI).
ATI and its member college and universities have pledged to graduate an additional 50,000 low- and moderate-income students by 2025. In mid-November, ATI members joined with other higher education, military and veteran organizations to place a special emphasis on veterans during a meeting on Nov. 14 in Arlington, Virginia.
The conference, hosted by the College Board and Ithaka S+R, brought together organizations such as the American Council on Education, the Posse Foundation, the Coalition for College, the Common Application, Service to School, and ATI. Together they explored effective strategies for recruiting and enrolling veterans and for supporting their success on campus through graduation.
An insight offered by Clark Brigger, executive director for Undergraduate Admissions at Penn State and a panelist at the November meeting in Virginia, was to “hire a veteran as part of your admissions staff.”
“Veterans have unique insight and access to the military and can communicate with current and former military in their language about their opportunities,” he said. “Veterans on staff have lived the experience and easily bridge the civilian to military gap, which makes it easier to help future students achieve their goals.”
Col. Eugene McFeely is the senior director for Veterans Affairs and Services at Penn State. He said veterans add to the richness and diversity of the student body.
“One of the most important catalysts to learning is being exposed to new ideas, concepts, thoughts and points of view,” McFeely said. “Student veterans are a demographically diverse group and their experiences in the service are unique, giving them a different world view and perspective than the undergraduate student body at large. This makes the veteran population a valuable resource to the academic environment which is driven by diversity of thought and experiences, an important component of Penn State’s diversity focus.”
Currently there are more than 5,600 Penn State students who have a direct military tie as a service member, veteran or military dependent, across all of the University’s campuses, including Penn State World Campus. They are supported through a number of programs from the Office of Veterans Programs that aid in transition to the University, including: accessing GI Bill benefits, advising, counseling, tutoring, peer-to-peer mentoring and support, and career services, among others. Those leaving military service can also connect with other veterans through Penn State student veterans organizations. This past year, Penn State began planning a new 6,300-square-foot Student Veteran Center within Ritenour Building, and construction for the center is scheduled to start in January 2019.
“By providing programs and services and participating in the ATI initiative, we encourage this unique and important population to attend Penn State and help them to succeed, while promoting diversity and awareness of this population to other students, staff and faculty throughout campus,” McFeely said. “Anything we can do to encourage student veteran attendance at Penn State or to enhance their academic experience and success while here will advance learning at this institution and make us a stronger institution overall.”
Penn State joined ATI in 2018. Formed in 2016 with support from Bloomberg Philanthropies and led by the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program and Ithaka S+R, ATI has brought together more than 100 of the nation’s colleges and universities with graduation rates of more than 70 percent to act on their shared commitment to increasing access and success for students from low- and moderate-income households.
ATI’s annual report released on Dec. 17 shows its member institutions are well on their way to the goal of graduating more low- and moderate-income students. As of this year, ATI members increased their enrollment of students who receive federal Pell Grants by 7,291 since the 2015-16 school year. The initiative has grown from 30 founding higher education institutions to 108.
Through a community of practice, more than 30 ATI members will focus on facilitating veteran student enrollment, including transfers from community colleges, providing more support to nontraditional students, and helping students navigate the complicated world of financial aid, including GI Bill benefits. Throughout the year, participating members will collaborate, set goals related to veteran enrollment and graduation, and track progress toward goals through annual data collection.
“Penn State, with its many pathways toward earning a degree, is uniquely suited to serve student veterans,” said Rob Pangborn, vice president and dean for Undergraduate Education. “The ability to take courses online through the University’s World Campus allows those in active service to get a head start on their studies. Then on leaving military service, they can transition seamlessly into residence-based coursework at any of the University’s Commonwealth Campuses to complete their degrees.”