Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Smallest State in the Union Makes Big Waves: Rhode Island Becomes the First New England State to Host Operation College Promise

Robyn A. Gilroy 

With many veterans returning home to a sluggish economy, the Post 9/11 GI Bill has been the beacon that allows so many to transition from active military service to meaningful civilian employment. The flip side, as any veteran will tell you, is that the civilian world and the world of military service and veteran entitlement programs generally don’t speak the same language. Since its founding in 2008, Operation College Promise (OCP) has pursued its objective with singe-minded focus: being the bridge between veterans, the Post 9/11 GI Bill, and higher education institutions.

August of 2014 Rhode Island became the first New England state to participate in the Certificate for Veterans’ Service Providers (CVSP) Program, designed to assist higher education institutions become familiar with the fine print details of Post 9/11 GI Bill funding and other programs and services to support a military-affiliated student.  It also allows participants to get plugged in to the greater network of professionals dedicated to supporting those veterans and servicemembers who have sacrificed so much for us, here at home.  As these individuals begin their transition to civilian life, they have needs which require a unique skill set, and that is where OCP comes in.

Sister Jane Gerety, Board Chair of the the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Rhode Island (AICURI) and President of Salve Regina University, addressed CVSP’s participants, saying “Student veterans are increasingly seeking to attend Rhode Island’s eight private colleges and universities, and it is important that our institutions are equipped to educate and support these returning service veterans.” Her sentiment echoes that of U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) in saying, “Our duty to support and honor our veterans extends beyond health care. It is essential that we equip them with the professional development and educational opportunities they need to build and advance their post-military careers.”

In the last six years, OCP has offered this intensive two and a half day training program -  essentially a crash course on the experiences of the militarycollege student population. What the CVSP gets right, among other things, is recognizing the need for higher education institutions to become familiar, and comfortable, with veterans. The CVSP covers a variety of topics, beginning with “Soldier for Life & Military 101: A Primer on Military Culture.” As a civilian married to U.S. Navy veteran, the value of this training topic is definitely not lost on me! In translating military experiences and training courses to higher education terms, one may find themselves in need of a decoder ring. Other modules address the current status of the ever-evolving Post 9/11 GI Bill, as well as connecting colleges and universities to the variety of services available to veterans in their state, so that they might, in turn, connect their student veterans to any and all services available to them. 

Higher education institutions, when effectively wielding this skill set to better meet the needs of their veteran student population, are doing more than just honoring the debt we, as a nation, owe our military servicemembers and veterans. They’re also doing service to their communities, to businesses and to organizations in the public and private sectors, and to the nation at large. Military servicemembers bring to their civilian lives a rich set of values and ethics. By arming these individuals with the knowledge and skills to enter the workforce, their contributions to the nation will not end with their service contract. When student veterans thrive in higher education, everyone benefits.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Operation College Promise brings the thunder to Oklahoma City May 2014

Operation College Promise (OCP) arrived in Oklahoma City on a mission. Its objective—to provide a current and practical overview of the skills and best practices required of college administrators and veteran coordinators in order for Post-9/11 vets to get the most out of the Montgomery GI Bill and find success in their post-secondary advancement.

Billed as one of the most important pieces of legislation in the United States’ history by Lieutenant Governor of Oklahoma, Todd Lamb, who provided the opening remarks for the 2 ½ day program, the Post-9/11 GI Bill provides veterans with the often difficult to find funding needed to meet the ever-rising cost of higher education. In a state like Oklahoma, where there is an increasing need for skilled and educated labor, the GI Bill is fulfilling that demand, not only for veterans transitioning back to civilian life and seeking career advancement, but providing the state and its burgeoning economy with individuals able to meet the challenges of an increasingly sophisticated and evolving industry.

The Certificate for Veteran’s Service Providers (CVSP) program is a rigorous 2 ½ day training seminar in which administrators and service providers receive a crash-course on military immersion, veteran entitlements and resources that aid in a more efficient allocation of the service providers’ energies by clarifying and unifying best practices amongst professionals in the field. Additionally, for the experienced and newbie administrator alike, it provides a unique opportunity to network with like-minded professionals from across the country in sharing best-practices, information, and resources for the good of veterans finding their way onto college campuses and universities.

The program is designed to shed light on the myriad of obstacles veterans face in their transition from soldier to civilian life. Realizing that a veteran’s health is tantamount to their success in college, this CVSP program had a large focus on care for both the physical and nonphysical scars of war facing our returning warriors.

 The CVSP program featured multiple panels on topics ranging from military culture and immersion, American Council on Education initiatives, Veterans Affairs’ representatives, and Department of Defense speakers, all with the common goal of making the transition for veterans to civilian life more fruitful for themselves and the country by improving the expertise of the professional community that serves them here at home.

For information on bringing a CVSP program to your area contact Wendy Lang at


Thursday, April 17, 2014

OCP Spring 2014 Blog, by Marvin Cadet

The Office of Veteran and Military Resources at Montclair State University has partnered with the Prajjali project and has been providing yoga classes exclusively to student veterans on campus. The Prajjali project is an initiative to get our veterans in touch with the practice of yoga. Among its many benefits, such as increases of energy and awareness, yoga has proven to be successful in helping individuals who may suffer from PTSD. The Prajjali project was established to address the issue of suicide that veterans in our country face. Denise Rodak, Coordinator of Veteran and Military Resources and a yoga practitioner, is always looking for ways to incorporate contemplative practices into her work with veteran and military students.  According to Ms. Rodak, “Yoga is a very accessible practice and I believe it can help students tap into their true potential.” 
Cpt. Benjamin Stoner presented the keynote speech at the NJ Association of Colleges and Employers at Stone Hall University. Cpt. Stoner highlighted some of the findings from Completing the Mission II  such as the survey that suggests the top services provided by universities are proving to be successful among the veteran population on campus. Stoner also talks about on homeless veterans, building communities and the importance of teamwork. The conference went on to identify things that make veterans attractive to potential employers such as:
·         Being able to recognize challenges
·         Soft skills
·         The ability to be lead and be led
·         Work ethic

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Next Generation on Campus

By Wendy Lang, director of Operation College Promise
In November of 2008, Operation College Promise (OCP) was founded by the New Jersey Association of State Colleges and Universities (NJASCU) to answer a call – the needs of returning servicemembers poised to transition from Operation Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. The nine-member institutions vowed to prepare their campuses to support these students as they moved toward completion of their college degrees.

It was anticipated that a growing number of veterans would pursue this opportunity in light of the most generous education entitlement package in 55 years. The enactment of the “Post-9/11 Veterans Assistance Act of 2008,” also known as the “Post-9/11GI Bill,” was poised to become another game changer in higher education, one that would prompt many more veteran students to seek a college degree. The struggling economy made the benefit more enticing as a reintegration tool as some two million veterans began the process of returning to civilian life in a grim job market.
In 1944, a very similar policy was unveiled in the wake of an unprecedented number of servicemembers returning from World War II. While there has been limitless scholarly debate on the true implications of this initiative – “The Servicemembers Readjustment Act of 1944” or “The GI Bill” – even some 60 years later, it’s fair to say some similarities exist – similarities that will likely be debated for years to come.
What are they?

To begin, both the 1944 and 2008 versions of the education entitlements far overshadowed and outweighed their predecessors. While the WWII bill seems paltry in 2013 dollars, it was a conceptual shift in emphasis that opened doors to higher education for a different group of learners and they took advantage of this opportunity in droves. Indeed, more than 7 of the 15 million returning veterans attained some type of degree or training. Many, credit this first version of the GI Bill for the establishment of the post-war American middle class and it was this surge in enrollment that contributed to the dramatic growth and evolution of the majority of public institutions here in New Jersey.

Today’s GI Bill (Chapter 33) makes its predecessor, the Montgomery GI bill (Chapter 30), look meager. To contrast them – the current version covers the entire cost of state college or university tuition (with a generous housing allowance), while the former provided about $1300 a month in 2008.

The initial emphasis of the OCP project focused on better dissemination of information regarding benefits and benefit attainment – the lack of which impeded successful reintegration. The nine members of NJASCU joined forces with the objective to lead the charge in assisting these veterans to successfully transition to the higher education milieu.

Expanding opportunities for returning student veterans continues to be the priority of OCP as it celebrates its 5-year anniversary. The enrollment of military-affiliated students on the nine NJASCU campuses continues to flourish, at about 17,000 of the total 108,000 population. Indeed, the increase on traditional campuses over the past 5 years has been dramatic – rising fivefold in the case of one of our institutions.

Also during this time, OCP’s signature professional development training – the Certificate for Veterans’ Service Providers (CVSP) program – has assisted some 500 professionals in 30 states in the establishment of a campus blueprint of best practices to optimize the success of their military-affiliated student body.

Here at OCP, we have been trying to ‘flesh out’ the praise for the GI Bill into actual numbers that prove its value to student veterans – and good news to all Americans. The revision of the November 2011 Pilot Study titled: “Completing the Mission II: A Study of Veteran Students’ Progress Toward Degree Attainment in the Post 9/11 Era” was just released last week.

Our updated report surveyed 741 students on 23 campuses. And, as in the 2011 OCP pilot study, there’s great news to report. Both “success rate” (credits attempted/credits earned) and “persistence rate” (continuing enrollment from spring to fall semesters in the same academic year) continue to be on par or exceed that of the general student population. Given an average GPA of 3.0 among the veteran students surveyed, research would suggest that these students are on the right track toward attaining a degree well within the 6-year national standard.

What are the take-aways from this data?

To begin with, military-affiliated students are assets to colleges and universities as highly-disciplined and motivated learners well aware of the “time-stamp” that the Post-9/11 GI Bill places on their education benefits. Campuses that OCP surveyed have implemented research-based programs and services to assist this population become acclimated to the campus environment and listened to their input on effective support mechanisms.

The result is a group of college learners who are excelling in this academic environment and developing into civilian leaders – leaders who will – as their World War II predecessors did before them – emerge as the next “Greatest Generation.” Their adaptability, discipline and drive are serving them well on the college campus and our colleges and universities are proud to support them “To, Through and Beyond” their next mission – attaining a degree.