Eastern Kentucky University’s long-standing national reputation for helping veterans and their dependents achieve their educational dreams just got another boost.
EKU is the only university in Kentucky and one of only 72 nationwide to earn Gold distinction in the 2020-21 rankings released recently by Military Friendly® (militaryfriendly.com). Of nearly 1,700 institutions that completed the annual survey, only 625 were deemed Military Friendly®, with Gold medals going only to the highest-performing schools in six categories: Academic Policies and Compliance, Admissions and Orientation, Culture and Commitment, Financial Aid and Assistance, Graduation and Career, and Military Student Support and Retention.
Several new initiatives helped Eastern improve from its Bronze ranking a year ago, according to Barbara Kent, enlisted Army veteran and director of the Office of Military and Veterans Affairs (OMVA) at the University.
“There has been a targeted focus on military cultural awareness training for students, faculty and staff, as well as our senior administrators,” Kent said. “This focus on educating our campus community, as well as the local community, about our veteran and military students facilitates effective collaboration between departments and offices, leading to enhanced delivery of services and an ability to proactively address issues that might negatively influence their academic success.”
Eastern implemented several initiatives related to retention and graduation of its veteran and military population, including the establishment of a Student Veteran Emergency Fund, which can award micro-grants up to $500 to eligible student veterans experiencing financial hardship due to delay in receiving their GI Bill benefits. The University also established a Student Veteran Transition Workshop as well as extracurricular programming designed to engage students and enhance their feeling of belonging. More recently, OMVA initiated and provided the financial support to establish the Kentucky Alpha Chapter of Omega Delta Sigma, the first co-ed veterans fraternity in the Commonwealth and one of only 14 in the nation.
“EKU has historically been very competitive with regard to retention and graduation rates for veteran and military students, primarily as a result of centralized services and targeted outreach at critical junctures during the semester,” Kent said, adding that students are able to receive information and certification for federal and state entitlement, vocational rehabilitation services, academic advising, book vouchers and other services specific to their student status. Other military-friendly policies include discounted parking, priority registration for veteran students, and formal policies regarding deployment that provide several options with no financial implications.
In addition to the one-stop shop approach to providing services, Kent cited several other distinctives that make EKU a popular choice for veterans and their dependents:
- an “exceptionally committed and dedicated” OMVA staff. Every staff member, she noted, is either a veteran or is military-connected (spouse, child and/or parent).
- “high-quality, accredited programs, both resident and online, of particular interest to many veteran and military students, including aviation, business, criminal justice, fire safety and protection, arson investigation, emergency medical care, homeland security, and occupational safety.
- “wrap-around” services that include a focus on career progression following graduation. The OMVA works closely with the University’s Center for Career and Co-Op to identify employers who are intentional in recruiting employees who are veterans and/or military-affiliated.
- strong support from senior leadership at the University, “most notably demonstrated” by OMVA’s pending move (May 2020) from a converted home just north of Irvine McDowell Park on Lancaster Avenue to a 3,000-square-foot space in the newly renovated Powell Student Center. The new home will include a dedicated Veterans Center, Kent said, where veterans and military students will be able to learn about and receive services, study, socialize and attend related events. It will also include a hospitality station with free beverages and snacks, a large projection screen, computer stations, printers, lounge furniture and areas for group projects. “It will be the largest space dedicated to veteran and military students in the Commonwealth,” Kent said.
In Fall 2019, EKU enrolled nearly 1,200 veteran and military students as well as their dependents, the largest special population on campus receiving targeted services, according to Kent.
To learn more about programs and services available at EKU to veteran and military students and their dependents, visit va.eku.edu.