Higher education institutions from around Wyoming are working together to develop strategies to better serve military veterans on their campuses.
The first-of-its-kind, three-day conference features representatives from colleges and vocational schools statewide. They say veterans returning to civilian life face challenges and have special needs—and entering into a higher education setting adds to that.
Conference organizer Marty Martinez is project coordinator at UW’s Veterans Services Center. He says becoming a veteran-friendly school is easier said than done.
“When we say we’re veteran-friendly, that’s an easy term to put out there, but when we, as institutions start backing that term up, that’s when suddenly we run into financial issues, personnel issues, programming issues and policy issues,” Martinez said.
“Really we do struggle to be able to say that we are veteran-friendly and to be able to put those programs in practice. Usually it’s just one person at a college, and they don’t know everything that’s out there.”
Most in attendance serve as VA certifying officials at their schools, who connect student veterans with VA benefits. They came to learn about other benefits and resources they can offer. Martinez points out, though, that it’s often difficult to tell which programs and resources are working. This is because most higher education institutions don’t track veterans in college—and there’s no national level database.
“That data is what we need to substantiate the claim that we are we doing well,” Martinez said. “Our veterans are doing great in Wyoming, but we want to make sure they’re succeeding at the same rates as all of the other groups, so we can identify how to help them to succeed.”
Martinez says UW recently began tracking veterans as a group, and encouraged the representatives from other schools around the state to do the same.
As troops continue to return home from Afghanistan, Martinez says now is the time for Wyoming schools to invest in improving veterans’ resources on their campuses.