By JACOB BLAIR
Eastern has continued to carve a name for itself as a military-friendly school, catching the eye of Victory Media, which recently ranked the university as a “military-friendly school” among the top 20 percent of institutions of higher learning for the upcoming 2014 year. This marks the fifth consecutive year that Eastern has been named a “Military-Friendly School” by Victory Media.
Only the top 20 percent of institutions of higher learning out of the more than 10,000 schools that receive funding from the Department of Veterans Affairs are ranked “Military-Friendly.” The ranking will appear in G.I. Jobs magazine, a magazine for service members that distributes 75,000 copies per month.
Victory Media publishes “Military Friendly” lists to encourage veterans and active service members to consider new opportunities for not just higher education but also employment opportunities.
Eastern is not a newcomer into providing excellence for veterans as demonstrated in 2011 and 2013 when Eastern was ranked the No. 1 School in the “Best for Vets” category by the Military Times EDGE magazine.
The G.I. Jobs magazine said they surveyed student veterans and when asked about their experience, veterans rated Eastern a 3.8 out of 4.
Eastern’s good reviews with military students have already benefited the school in ways. Student enrollment, for instance, had leveled off at Eastern in recent years. But that’s not the case for military students.
The number of veterans has continued to grow, said Allen Back, director of Military and Veterans Affairs. Eastern had 550 veterans in 2009 and that figure has grown to 1,354 this semester.
Back attributed the growth to a campaign by Eastern called Operation Veteran Success that started in 2010 and more veterans using the post-9/11 G.I. Bill benefits that offer more advancement and higher learning opportunities.
The post-9/11 G.I. Bill, enacted in August 2009, is meant to entice veterans to higher education opportunities by providing in-state tuition, which at Eastern amounts to $3,768 per semester, Back said.
The bill also provides opportunities for veterans not just to attend school, but also for to extend educational benefit to their dependents.
Eastern also tries to help veterans get the most for their active duty service experience by offering credit hours in for military experience during a veteran’s tour of duty, Back said. He referenced one student who was able to get 70 credit hours for his military experience.
In September 2012, the program moved out of the Whitlock Building and set up their new office in the Burnam House, down the road from campus on Lancaster Ave.
Back said the new office benefits veterans because unlike other universities he can handle a majority of issues, such as admission applications and paperwork. The Burnam House also provides handicapped accessible parking to veterans.
Mike Bush, president of the EKU VETS club, said university life is different for veterans compared to traditional students.
“The military needs support, they have spent the last four years overseas being told what to wear, where to go and what time to be there,” Bush said.
Bush also said Veterans Affairs tries to help outside of the academic life by making sure veterans have enough money to pay for daily needs when the Department of Veterans Affairs isn’t timely with getting a stipend check to them.
When they first arrive at Eastern, veterans may not have a place to stay in town or nearby. Back said there is one house, soon to be two houses, with multiple bedrooms that veterans are staying in while here in Richmond. The houses are affordable at $250 rent per month and provide a better environment for older veterans than the residence halls with younger students, Back said.
Back said having a program that continuously ranks among the top schools for veterans takes a lot of work.
“This doesn’t happen by any one person,” Back said. “This is a collaborative effort by the university.”
If students know veterans that need assistance with college or if veterans are thinking about attending college here, they can go online to va.eku.edu or call the Military and Veterans Affairs office at (859) 622-2345.