This story was originally published in the March 30 print issue.
U.S. News recently ranked Mason the 38th best college for veterans out of 311 schools across the country.
The list only includes schools that ranked on the 2015 list of U.S. News Best Colleges, on which George Mason ranks 138th best national university. For the veterans list, those colleges must also meet three specific criteria: be a member of the Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges (SOC) Consortium, be certified for the GI Bill and participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program.
The SOC Consortium is a partnership between the Department of Defense and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities that helps coordinate college education opportunities for service members. The GI Bill, originally enacted in 1944, now covers the bulk of college education costs for veterans, while the Yellow Ribbon Program offers additional funds for veteran students who need them.
Georgetown University, ranked number 1 best school for veterans, earned that title because it was the highest-ranking school on the Best Colleges list that also met all three criteria. Compared to schools in the region, Mason falls in the middle—Catholic University of America in Washington, DC ranked 28, but Virginia Commonwealth University tied for number 47. On collegefactual.com, a for-profit webpage that offer statistics on schools across the county, Mason is ranked the second best school for veterans in the state after Old Dominion University.
“I’m very proud of the fact that we are the highest ranking public school in the state of Virginia and that we are able to generate the support for our community both on campus and in the northern Virginia community to really bring together that programming for our student veterans that rivals that of private institutions,” said Jennifer Connors, director of Military Services at Mason.
Julian Ausan, a Government and International Politics major who served in the U.S. Army for 11 years before coming to Mason, believes that, although Mason “is a great academic school,” more needs to be done to help veterans determine their eligibility and receive their benefits on time.
That is where the Mason Office of Military Services steps in. Through the OMS, the university offers many programs to help over 3,000 veterans become successful students and to help them transition into the workforce. Battle Buddies is one such initiative that is set up to serve both the academic and professional needs of veterans in transition by matching new students up with upper-level students in similar majors.
According to Jonah Hewett, an assistant transition coordinator at OMS and vice President of the Mason Veterans Society, the best support system for Mason’s students may come from the physical office space itself.
“I came here [to Mason] as a veteran, and the first stop along the way was the Office of Military Services,” Hewett said. “It was kind of a way to get away from the standard student population.”
This reprieve can be especially welcoming for veterans because they tend to be a little older than the general population—the majority of veterans at Mason are between 26-30 years old and often have families. The OMS provides a comfortable space for veterans to spend any down time they have in between classes with students that share a common bond and similar experiences with them.
The OMS also offers tutoring and mentorship, as veterans typically have very rigorous course loads to fit the requirements of their aid packages and lifestyles. On March 26, the office is inviting Accenture, a management and technology consulting company, to help students with resume building.
“Military veterans are adult learners—they don’t have the time or luxury to idle through school,” Connors said. “They have to get the education they need and they have to get into the employable workforce.
To further aid the veteran community, the OMS operates a Student Veteran Housing project committed to assisting student veterans find affordable housing near Mason with fellow veterans.
“We try and see if there are other veterans in the community that may have rooms available or are maybe looking for rooms,” Hewett said, as it can sometimes be challenging for veterans to live with civilians or people who do not have experience with the military. “It’s a difficult transition because they don’t speak the same lingo.”
Mason also boasts the Military Alliance Program, a program unique to the school in which staff and faculty members undergo special training to learn how to be accommodating and encouraging to military students at Mason, both active duty and veteran. Only 70 Mason staff and faculty members from a wide variety of departments participate in this program, but Connors said the office is looking to expand MAP and plans to hold more trainings for this semester.
Connors says she is optimistic as the OMS grows and looks towards new ways it can help and support veterans.
“There is something about the military and veteran community that really makes us a family, and there is a special bond that crosses any type of bridge that you can imagine among our student population,” Connors said.
Photo Credit: Amy Rose