Ever since President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Servicemenâ€™s Readjustment Act of
1944, American military servicemen and women have been enjoying the just perks of a college education courtesy of Uncle Sam.
By the time the original bill ended 12 years later, nearly 8 million World War II veterans had participated in an education or vocational training program. Today, the promise of that original bill lives on in the form of the Montgomery G.I. Bill, and itâ€™s as popular as ever among American Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors and Marines.
It is state law in North Dakota that all eligible active-duty servicemembers and veterans, their spouses and dependents â€” regardless of what state they are from â€” can attend North Dakota University System schools at in-state rates. Members of the N.D. National Guard have additional benefits for which they can qualify.
But some schools in North Dakota go above and beyond.
One need only look to the University of North Dakota for proof of a super veteran-friendly environment. UND efforts to cater to veteran students is partly based on the fact they have unique needs compared to traditional students, but itâ€™s also partly a way to thank these men and women for their service.
Alice Hoffert, UND associate vice president of enrollment management, said UNDâ€™s vet-friendly ways are not the norm around the country, but itâ€™s a posture that school officials adopted early as military deployments and call-ups became more commonplace.
â€œThey are an exceptional group of people, so we are interested in making exceptions for them,â€ Hoffert said. â€œWe just felt they deserved special accommodations.â€
At UND, there are about 540 students who receive some kind of veteranâ€™s benefits, with about 150 of those students being members of the National Guard.
As a Veterans Administration â€œYellow Ribbon School,â€ UND pays additional costs beyond what the G.I. Bill does not cover for student veterans. Under an agreement, the school and the VA split the remaining costs.
Hoffert said UND routinely works with veteran students when it comes to tuition and fee deadlines, making sure to waive late fees when their enrollment is affected by military duty. The same goes for housing contracts, which are pro-rated based on their military duty schedule so they are not stuck paying for a university residence they canâ€™t use.
Also, if a veteran gets called away from class for any kind of military duty longer than 14 days, their tuition and fees are refunded at 100 percent.
North Dakota veteran students are eligible to take advantage of the stateâ€™s â€œdropâ€ policy that allows them to halt classes without penalty if they are called away for military duty.
At UND, instructors also are given the discretion to work with veteran students to register a grade as â€œincomplete,â€ or, if enough progress has been made during a semester, they can issue a grade based on the studentsâ€™ performance to that point.
â€œWhen I was called up to assist in flood-fighting efforts in the middle of a semester, my instructors were very flexible and accommodating,â€ said Jesse Wolff, a UND communication major from Beulah, N.D. Wolff served in the N.D. National Guard from 2004 to 2010 and was deployed for Operation Iraqi Freedom from 2005 to 2006.
Veteran students at UND also are eligible for priority registration no matter if they are an incoming freshman or a transfer student from another school. This ensures that veterans get the classes they need sooner. Typically, UND students register based on the amount of credit hours they have accrued.
Another important component of UNDâ€™s handling of veteransâ€™ needs is the â€œone-stop- shopâ€ setup of its Veterans Affairs office. Carol Anson, UNDâ€™s certifying official, has the power to work with students and take care of matters that, at many other schools, would be handled by multiple offices. All she needs to see is a verification of military orders. This model is especially valuable in cases where veteran students are called away to duty.
â€œWe donâ€™t want the student using up their valuable time going from one office to the next,â€ Hoffert said. â€œWe want them to be able to spend that time with their Families.â€
Hoffert said that another major UND initiative has been to offer preferential enrollment, into certain classes, for servicemembers and veterans. Initially, sections of psychology and English composition were set up.
Instructors for the courses were handpicked so that they had some level of prior military involvement or experience with servicemen and women. The courses were determined to be ones that most met the needs of returning veterans. The results were so successful that UND has decided to add sociology and speech to the list of veterans-only class sections.
â€œThe classes were chosen so that students of similar life experiences could be together and write about their shared experiences, think about these experiences, speak about these experiences and learn about the social aspects of these experiences,â€ Hoffert said.
Hoffert said the idea for veteran-specific classes stemmed from the schoolâ€™s Military
Affairs Committee, which comprises community and University members who are in the military or work closely with military organizations.
â€œWe get a really good sense from this group about what veterans and the military would like to see from UND,â€ Hoffert said.
Philip Parnell, director of online enrollment at UND, said his schoolâ€™s efforts to serve veteran students has earned it national recognition from organizations such as G.I. Jobs, and most recently, from Military Advanced Education, which named UND a â€œTop Military-Friendly College for 2010- 2011.â€ G.I. Jobs also named Bismarck State College as being in the top â€œ15 percent of military-friendly schools.â€
Though not the central goal of UNDâ€™s military-friendly efforts, Parnell referenced a 65 percent increase in the number of veteran students from 2008 to now.
The increase also could be attributed to a ramped up nationwide effort to recruit veteran and military students to take classes from UND.
â€œServing our veterans the way we do at UND is a way of giving back for all theyâ€™ve done for us,â€ Parnell said. â€œWe have been honoring our veterans one way or another for years on the UND campus. Itâ€™s the right thing to do â€” itâ€™s in our culture.â€
For more information about military educational benefits, contact the Veterans Affairs office at your school.
Cutline information for photo: Air Force Andrew Anderson, of the University of North Dakota ROTC battalion and also a senior airman in the 119th Wing of the N.D. Air National Guard, stands in front of Twamley Hall at UND on Feb. 22.