WCU listed one of the top military-friendly colleges

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The Guide to Online Schools recently listed Western Carolina University as one of the most online military friendly-colleges of 2017.

The Guide to Online Schools is an independent research organization that studies over 22,000 colleges with online degree programs to provide prospective students with suggestions on what schools to attend based on price, prestige, student reviews and a wide array of other factors. One list compares schools based on the support networks they create for students in the military.

The survey, which considered veteran presence, flexibility and financial assistance opportunities, ranked only 68 accredited universities across the United States as military-friendly. Not only was Western Carolina one of these universities, but it received a score of 89.67 points out of 100, making it one of the top 20 online schools in the country for military students.

This isn’t the first time Western Carolina has been commended for its treatment of military students. Victory Media, a military specific review group that surveys over 7,000 colleges around the country, recognized Western Carolina as being in the top 15% of military-friendly schools in 2015.

chools in 2015. Perhaps the most important driving factor behind this honor is Military Student Services, a university program dedicated to helping students affiliated with the military with any issues they have at Western Carolina. The program helps with the admissions process, applying for aid and scholarships, transitioning between campus and bases, working with the Department of Veterans Affairs and communicating with other service members at school and in the larger community.

In 1944, President Franklin Roosevelt approved the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act, better known as the GI Bill, to take better care of returning veterans after World War II. The bill created several new benefits for service members, including collegiate assistance, and Western Carolina has been paying special attention to military students ever since. However, Military Student Services didn’t become a formal office of the university until 2004. The Student Veterans Association, which focuses on involving military students in campus culture, was established informally in 2012 and was recognized as a chapter of the National Student Veterans Association the following year.

According to Briana Ford, the director of the program, Military Student Services is a vital part of the college experience for service members. The financial aid that makes the difference for many of these students is only applicable for a short time, so they don’t always have time to wait on their more important classes. Registration counseling helps them get the classes they need to fulfill their degrees and keep their schedules at an appropriate length. Some military students are serving active duty and must take their classes online from combat zones, so the office serves as a mediator between students and professors when the job comes first.

“Military students also have an obligation to the United States Military,” Ford said. “They must fulfill those duties first and foremost.”

The organization is also an important source of community. The atmosphere of the military and a college campus are drastically different, and adjusting to civilian life is a daunting struggle to add to the regular strain of school.

“When leaving the military and coming straight to an academic setting, the service member enters an entirely different culture,” Ford said. “They go from a strict, disciplined environment, to one that encourages individuality and free thought. Military students often feel isolated from their classmates, as they have a vastly different life experience and different priorities for school.”

In addition to working directly with service members, Military Student Services provides Green Zone training sessions to other students, staff and faculty. Green Zone is a concept modeled after the LGBT+ support program Safe Zone that educates people about the unique needs of military students.

The program has been adopted by colleges nationwide and over 150 people have been trained at Western Carolina since Military Student Services was founded.

Ford thinks that the organization should keep up the good work going forward. They’re already doing everything they can in the short term, but improvements to access and experiences for military students can always be made.

“Our hope is that all of campus will become aware of the positives our military bring to our campus, our community and our classrooms,” Ford said.

For more information on Military Student Services, visit their website at military.wcu.edu.