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NSU Working to Create Veteran-Friendly Campus

TAHLEQUAH, OK—Northeastern State University has seen a spike in the number of veterans enrolled in recent years—a welcome challenge shared by other colleges and universities as an estimated 425,000 veterans are now enrolled in higher education institutions nationwide. Another marked increase is expected in 2010.

"NSU has seen a one-third increase in the number of individuals who are using some form of federal benefit connected to the G.I. Bill," said Mark Kinders, vice president for University Relations at NSU. "There are a half-dozen GIB categories, but the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill is the most recent version and the one gaining the greatest attention."

Much of the feedback Northeastern receives is favorable. Sgt. 1st Class (ret.) Kenneth C. Meyer, an Oklahoma National Guard veteran who graduated this fall, called his experience with NSU "very positive."

Since arriving on the Northeastern campus in Sept. 2008, Kinders has made known his concern for veterans' matters, particularly the issues faced by those returning from the Afghanistan and Iraq theaters. About 400 veterans and dependents—National Guard members and Reservists—attended NSU during the Fall 2009 term with assistance from a version of the G.I. Bill. Virtually all of Northeastern's increase in veteran enrollment, said Kinders, is a result of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill.

Like many of its peers, NSU is rigorously reviewing its policies in preparation to support increased veteran enrollment.

Last spring and summer, Kinders chaired a task force that comprised all aspects of veterans’ experiences on campus. The task force included faculty and staff who are veterans, student veterans, administrators who provide direct services to veterans and representatives of the military, as well as VA policy experts from the Cherokee Nation.

The task force met with several organizations through the course of its work including the Veterans Administration service center in Muskogee, the five veterans organizations in Cherokee County and the task force from Tulsa Community College.

The university cabinet has since adopted the group’s White Paper which details 18 recommendations to improve Northeastern's campus climate for veterans. Kinders said "the entire campus community is stepping forward" to make the first implementations.

Some of the changes include:

  • Reinvigorating the campus Veterans Club to provide leadership and feedback about how to meet veterans' needs.
  • Creating a Veterans Community in housing—Seminary Suites—where veterans can choose to reside in a learning community. Kinders said he expects this community to grow and praised university housing's leadership in creating it.
  • Strengthening the institutional relationship with the Muskogee V.A. regional office to process veterans benefits and other claims more efficiently. Kinders said "a strong relationship has been further cemented" with the Muskogee office – the largest in the nation with over 1,200 employees, of which about 300 are NSU alumni.
  • Conveying veterans' needs directly to Oklahoma's congressional delegation.
  • Providing funding for continuous training for NSU staff who work hands-on to provide veterans services to enhance awareness of vets' special needs and the best methods to meet them.

Meyer, 40, took an unavoidably circuitous route to his Bachelor's degree in criminal justice. He entered college 14 years ago and, after earning an Associate's, enrolled with NSU in 1999 through its former association with the University Center at Tulsa.

"Along the way there were two deployments," Meyer said. "But I also got married, had kids, and I got away from education. It seemed like every time I would start to work on it, something would happen that would steer me off course."

Meyer said NSU's "huge accessibilty" through traditional classes, multiple campuses, institutional partnerships, online courses and credit for military education provided the flexibility he needed to pursue his degree over an extended period, but one final obstacle arose this semester when a transfer-credit issue toward his psychology minor was brought to his attention.

Meyer appealed to NSU to credit the course and Bill Nowlin, dean of Enrollment Management Services, helped make Meyer's argument.

"I don't think they gave me something I wasn't entitled to, but I think they made a decision where they probably could have been justified in going the other way if they wished," Meyer said. "I know Mr. Nowlin put in extra effort to plead my case. Several people at the university went out of their way to help and I greatly appreciate that."

Published: 1/8/2010 3:24:03 PM

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