Effective Military-to-College Transition Strategies


Some years ago I helped Citrus College design a program and secure U.S. Department of Education funding with the goal to increase veteran student success rates. In this article I describe the pre and post grant implementation student outcomes, list effective strategies to help student veterans, and tips for veterans to consider when exploring college.

When I began helping the college with this project, student veteran baseline data from that year showed:
- Veterans were prolonging enrollment in math. Only 7% of the veteran population enrolled in college-level (non-remedial) mathematics
- 19% of veterans were on probation/dismissal status
- Veteran persistence rates (enrollment from one semester to the next) was 48%
- 1% of veterans sought mental health assistance

After conducting veteran student focus groups, researching promising practices, and building consensus among college stakeholders, we designed a program that included:
- Peer-to-Peer mentoring, consisting of mostly second-year veteran college students mentoring fellow veterans
- Dedicated vet-to-vet math tutors (veterans who were successful in math) available at the veterans center
- Mental health counselor at the veterans center
- Training for college professionals to better understand the veteran population and the transitional challenges they face

I helped the college secure one of only sixteen U.S. Department of Education three-year grant awards that year. After three years of implementation, the veteran student outcomes were significant.

- Veteran student enrollment in college-level math increased by 20%.
- Veterans student probation/dismissal status decreased by 9%
- Veteran student persistence rose from 48% to 73%
- Veteran students who sought mental health support increased from 1% to 30%

After the grant funding expired, the college continued to support the center, renaming it the "Veteran Success Center." Veteran success measures continue to improve as a result of the staff continually updating services. Some of the many additional offerings include art therapy, creating veteran student cohorts with ongoing academic support as they move through key courses together, a book loan program, emergency transportation support, and enhanced leadership and service opportunities that take advantage of their experience.

For an authentic perspective, please view this video.

Link to Video



Citrus College Veterans Success Center


Dr. Martha McDonald, Vice President of Student Services and Former Marine
Photo credit: San Gabriel Valley Tribune

Dr. Monica, Christianson, VSC Director
Photo credit: San Gabriel Valley Civic Alliance

For additional information visit: Citrus College Veterans Success Center

If you're a veteran considering college, find out if the colleges in your target area offer a robust veterans support center (more than simply processing your GI Bill benefits). Veteran services can vary greatly depending on the institution.

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For veterans exploring college, here are some of my tips to consider:

Counseling: Talk with a community college counselor ASAP. Learn the nuances of deadlines, registration processes, how financial aid works with the GI Bill, and learn if the institution offers a veteran support center.
Think about college like a deployment. There’s a ton of preparation. Your prep starts with a counselor.
Assessments: Prepare for the math and English assessments. You don’t always have to take math or English your first semester but depending on the community college, you’ll most likely be assessed in math and English in order to place you in these courses. Find out if your community college offers any assessment prep. Don’t take these assessments cold. If you don’t perform well you’ll be placed in low-level math and English, increasing your time-to-degree. Some colleges throughout the country, including in California, are instituting multiple measures which means they'll take into account your high school record as well. The purpose of multiple measures is to help increase your chances of enrolling in a college-level math and English course. Not all institutions in the country are employing multiple measures though.
Think of basic training. Many of us did some sort of physical training preparation prior to basic training. We didn’t all just go in cold.
Environment: Many civilian students will have absolutely no clue what you’ve been through. It may be difficult to identify with them. If the institution lacks a veteran support center, there will mostly likely be a veterans club. Consider joining it. Being among your fellow veterans can make a positive difference in your college experience.
Services: Consider taking advantage of every service available to you. For example, community colleges are public institutions and by law (depending on the state) have to provide a host of services to meet the needs of its students. It never ceases to amaze me how little students know about the variety of services offered, including tutoring, mentoring, disabled student services, etc.
Think of an assignment to a new base. You would want to know which is the best chow hall, best commissary, best haircut place, etc. Know your services!
Transferring: If transferring to a four-year university is your goal, see a transfer counselor after your first semester. Start to learn about the different transfer agreements between the community college and four-year institutions. In California, for example, many community colleges participate in the TAG (Transfer Admissions Guarantee) program. If a student maintains a certain GPA, he or she is guaranteed admissions to select public universities.
Think of it as if you were jumping from one deployment to another. Proper preparation and knowing where you’re going will make for a smoother transition.
Relationships: Apply your mission-driven attitude and work ethic to your studies, and be proactive about establishing relationships with professors. The saying, “Out of sight, out of mind” is appropriate in this context. Show genuine interest in the classes and let the professors know it. It’s best when people know you and are able to personalize your recommendations.
Think of it like building a relationship with key military staff (e.g., Gunny’s and First Sergeants). They can be productive mentors, and the kind of people you would want on your side.

I hope you find this information helpful from this ol' former Marine.

Me, Operation Restore Hope, Somalia, 1992

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