Special Guest Writer—Anthony Dotson (Director, University of Kentucky Veterans Resource Center): Soldier to Student – Good Luck!

Nationally, our student veterans are not being successful in attaining their academic goals. Early reports in 2010 put dropout rates at close to 88%. More recent “research” attempts to downplay the severity of the issue and claims that the majority of student veterans are indeed graduating. The majority is defined as a very narrow 51.7%. Not exactly a number worth celebrating. The reality is that student veterans are lagging behind their non-veteran counterparts on campus for several reasons, some related to transition issues and others related to the failure of DoD and the VA to adequately inform and protect those who serve.

soldier-departing-service-uniform-40820So before you decide to leave the military and put that hard earned education benefit to use, you should educate yourself and learn the lessons from those who have gone before you.

  1. Make sure college is really what you want to do. Not everyone has to go to college in order to be successful. I know that is shocking information and runs contrary to main stream media but the reality is that half of last year’s college graduates are under-employed. Meaning that they are working in jobs that do not require their degree. The trades are actually hurting for people right now. Heck, my HVAC guy makes far more money than I do, and I have two masters degrees!
  2. Choose the right form of higher education to meet your academic preparedness and your academic potential. There is a wide variety of higher education to choose from and they are not all created equal. Some focus on access and taking education to the people and thus have less stringent enrollment standards while others are very selective in who they admit. And unfortunately, there are others that are simply out to make money. I encourage you to enroll into the best school you can get admitted to.
  3. Online education sounds easy, but has a poor track record in actually graduating student veterans. Always ask about retention and graduation rates regardless of the type of higher education you select. The very best retention and graduation rates are in Private Universities followed by 4yr State Universities. It doesn’t mean you can’t be successful at the others, but you should know your odds going in. Another number to consider are loan default rates. If their graduates are defaulting, that means that they are not obtaining employment significant enough to pay off their debt.
  4. Don’t count on your Military Credit. Unless you are in the Air Force, your military credit will not likely move you any closer to your degree. While most schools “accept” military credit, in reality they simply recognize it as credit and will put in on your transcript as General Education credit. This type of credit does not count towards your electives or your degree requirements. In addition, too much of this type of credit on your transcript can actually work against you when it comes to financial aid. Look for military credit policies that only take the credit that will be applied towards your degree. You don’t need the fluff. And if you are wondering, the Air Force has the largest accredited community college in the country. Well played Air Force….well played.
  5. Know what Veteran and Military Friendly really means. Many schools want your GI Bill money and will go to great lengths to earn the title “veteran friendly”. Sadly, they may not be as friendly as their ranking or title implies. These titles are determined in most cases by the responses to survey questions. These surveys are created by folks who have never transitioned from the military to higher education so they include questions that sound good but have little to nothing to do with being veteran friendly. An example might be; “What percentage of the student body are veterans?”   The implication here is that the larger the number, the more veteran friendly the campus is. When in reality, they could be a very small school located outside the gates of a military installation. You can define veteran friendly however you like, I tend to define it as; “Student veteran success as measured by graduation rates.” After all, if they are not graduating, it doesn’t really matter how many veterans they have or how big their veterans’ center is.
  6. Finally, save some money. The transition out of the military may be a smooth one for many, but I assure you that life in the civilian world is not cheap. On top of that, the VA is not likely to pay you as promptly as you would like. Many student veterans struggle with finances early in the transition because they were “expecting” the VA to pay on time like DoD. The reality is that, that payment is often later than expected or needed. Having a reserve of 3 months’ rent will help you withstand the challenges with the VA. When you are looking at schools, see what they have in the way of emergency financial support.

solierpost-personwithpenbook-132922You have served your country honorably, now it is time to reap the benefits of a college education. Don’t throw that benefit away at a school that is not accredited, or one that has a poor track record of graduating students. If it sounds too good to be true, it is. If it sounds easy, beware! Obtaining a college degree is not supposed to be easy. Good luck!

Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.

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Highlighting 5 Big Differences Between High School and College

About a month ago I was talking to a class of rising freshmen, and I asked them if anyone had a question about how things work in college classroom. A hand went up and I was asked a question I had not heard in my 28 years of teaching: “What do you do when you need to go to the bathroom?” It was such a simple question, but it was the ideal question for a student trying their best to be prepared for the new world of college. At first, all I could think to say was “Great question!”. Then I proceeded to talk about this question and introduce several other issues that college students and faculty alike take for granted but are not usually known by students who three months ago were still in high school

Here are 5 critical issues (there are more) that I feel every incoming freshman needs to be clear about:

1) In college there is nothing like a hall pass, let alone a bathroom pass. You are free to go to the bathroom whenever you like. However, there are always classroom rules of etiquette. For example, if you get up in the middle of a lecture (large or small) do it quietly, walk to the door in a way that does not cut across the Instructor or makes you more salient than you already will be. That is, whenever someone gets up in class or comes into the classroom late everyone is going to look. The key is to be the least disruptive to the class as possible. I will add that this kind of free movement in and out of class may not only be for a trip to the bathroom, but if you do not feel well, to get a drink, or other reasons you may have for entering or leaving a classroom.

2) It is important to know what to call your Instructor in person or in an email. The way you know what to call them is either because they specifically tell you or you understand to follow certain unwritten rules. With regard to the former, some Instructors will tell you to call them by their first name. That’s fine, but quite honestly I do not feel you’ll get that too often. With regard to the latter, keep in mind that unlike high school your Instructor will typically have a doctorate degree (e.g., a PhD). If they have their doctorate degree it is generally the case that you will call them “Dr.” as in “Dr. Golding”. Some students say “Professor” (“Professor Golding”), but either is acceptable. Let me add that if a student called me “Mr. Golding” it would really be no big deal. However, I know that being addressed this way would appall some of my colleagues. If an Instructor does not have their doctorate degree you should call them “Mr.” (e.g., “Mr. Smith”) or “Ms.” (“e.g., “Ms. Jones”).

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3) In each class, you will need to take a seat—somewhere. It is almost always the case that you can sit wherever you want. I would caution you to try and sit near the front to (a) allow you to interact with the Instructor and (b) to keep more focused on the lecture (i.e., you can’t look around the room as easily.) However, I am finding that more and more classes have assigned seating. The Instructor may assign the seats from Day 1, or (as I have done) you choose a seat by Day 2 and that is your seat for the remainder of the semester. You may think that assigned seating is taking you right back to high school, but assigned seats allow an Instructor to more easily learn the names of students and can be very helpful to an Instructor in bookkeeping as far as grades are concerned. Also, the reason I feel OK about my Day 2 plan is that I have found that most students choose their seat and then keep it through the semester even when I do not make it a class policy.

4) The days of constant exams and homework in every class are generally over. There are some classes that will have a lot of graded work (e.g., Math, foreign language), but in general graded work is way less than you had in high school. For example, your classes will typically have 1-4 exams. It is possible that you may have a class with only a midterm and a final. Also, a lot of classes have no actual graded homework or assignments. That is, your exam grades are your only grades. Finally, be prepared for semester-long projects that are worth a significant portion of your grade. Let me add that the fact that you will likely have less graded work is not necessarily a good thing. It means that everything that is graded is worth a lot more. Therefore, you really have to put major effort into everything that gets graded.

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5) In general, your grade is your grade. What I mean by this is I typically get students who did not do well on a graded assignment or exam and ask me if they can do something extra to raise their grade. I have learned (partly from my own kids) that teachers in high school will offer extra credit on an individual basis. However, it is my experience that this kind of individualized extra credit rarely occurs in college. There may be extra credit opportunities, but these are usually points that can be earned the entire class.

As is often the case, the differences between high school and college are quite large. Remember, you are in a whole new world. You need to understand what is expected and how the college system works. Sure, there will be times when you are confused and frustrated. Keep calm and know that you, like countless others before you, will learn the ropes and will end up being a successful college student. Good luck!

Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.