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CU hosts summit for veterans in higher education

Daily Camera - 9/21/2018

Sept. 21--Colorado higher education leaders gathered Thursday at the University of Colorado for a summit on veterans in higher education.

The event, which was co-sponsored by CU Career Services and the Colorado Advisory Council on Military Education, was designed to connect people working in support of student veterans across the state and provide updates about changes in organizations and policies on the state and federal levels.

The keynote speaker, James Schmeling, who is the executive vice president of the national Student Veterans of America, said he was initially dissuaded from pursuing college because he was told he "wasn't college material." He joined the military instead and, through his service, worked with people who had undergraduate and advanced degrees, and he decided he was "college material." Schmeling later earned undergraduate and law degrees, he said.

Schmeling provided statistics about the perceptions of veterans in higher education and the assets they provide. He said about 200,000 veterans will transition out of the military each year, and 115,000 will begin higher education each year.

"Your role, in part, is to change the narrative and to make sure that all of the student veterans who are coming behind you ... know better -- that they know they can succeed anywhere, that they're not limited in any way and that they should choose the best institution," he told the assembled crowd, which included people who work in higher education and with student veterans, as well as State Sen. Owen Hill; chair of the Board of Regents, Sue Sharkey; and Provost Russell Moore.

A breakout session later in the day provided an update on House Bill 1004, which passed both chambers of the 2017 legislature unanimously and which Gov. John Hickenlooper signed into law in June 2017. The bill requires public higher education institutions to award applicable college credit for military service that meets certain criteria, and requires institutions to accept transfer credits from other state institutions.

The policies are now in effect, and Colorado Department of Higher Education staff members are working with individual institutions to ensure they are implemented and to take an inventory of those policies to list on the department's website.

The policies, developed by the Colorado Commission on Higher Education, also extend to students who are not veterans.

Spencer Ellis, director of educational innovation at the Colorado Department of Higher Education, gave the example of a small business owner returning to college who could submit a portfolio for review to receive credit for that experience.

"These policies extend to any student at a public institution," Ellis said. "It was spurred by the bill ... that was specific to veterans, but it's not restrictive."

Chris Rasmussen, the department's director of academic affairs, added: "It's a recognition that college-equivalent learning takes place in a lot of different settings and in different ways. It's not just sitting in a college classroom."

The summit also featured an employment and transition expo for student veterans to connect with support organizations and companies.

Carlton Mueller, a senior in geology who served five years in the Marines before coming to CU, attended the summit. He said there can be a marked difference in the age and life experiences of student veterans and their classmates, and it can feel isolating, but organizations and networking opportunities for student veterans help return a sense of community.

Rex Laceby, who works in CU's Career Service Office and is the vice president of the advisory council that sponsored the summit, said events like the expo can help ensure student veterans are connected with resources and networking opportunities to ease their transition out of military life. He also said the summit was an important way for institutions across the state to learn from one another about how they support student veterans, including the growing population at CU.

"It's a sharing of ideas, best practices and collaboration," Laceby said of the summit.

Cassa Niedringhaus: 303-473-1106, cniedringhaus@dailycamera.com

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(c)2018 the Daily Camera (Boulder, Colo.)

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