Baylor University has stepped up its work in serving student veterans with the hire of a full-time manager for the Veteran Educational and Transition Services program, known as VETS.
Kevin Davis, a Marine Corps veteran, took the inaugural post in May to support academic success of about 125 students in the four-year-old program.
“Where I see that really falling is that we’re here to support them, for incoming students, and immediately get them connected to other student veterans,” Davis said.
He teaches a transitional one credit-hour course designed for veterans. The program also provides mentoring, a specialized honor society and partnerships with Baylor’s counseling center and career and professional development center.
The differences between military life and college life are stark, said Janet Bagby, founder of VETS and a senior educational psychology lecturer.
“If you’re enlisted in the military, you have very little control over your time,” Bagby said. “You are told what to do, probably 15 to 20 hours a day. You are within a hierarchy that is highly structured and you’re really at the bottom of that hierarchy.”
Navigating higher education, however, is an unstructured process.
“You walk onto a college campus and you don’t have anyone telling you what to do,” she said. “They’re not giving you comprehensive training for how to do your job, which is going to school. . . . It would be like taking me and putting me down in the middle of Fort Hood and saying, ‘Janet, go be successful on this military post.’ That’s how different the cultures are.”
Bagby requested Baylor hire only a part-time manager, and she was glad to receive more than she asked for. She said the institutional support has never made her prouder of Baylor.
“Veterans who move on to college have a quite different life story than most of their student peers, and I am so pleased that at Baylor we work very hard to give them all the support we can,” Interim President David Garland said. “I am so proud of our student veterans, and they deserve our full backing. I also wear my Baylor VETS T-shirt proudly.”
Garland attended the United States Naval Academy from 1965 to 1967 and served in the U.S. Navy Reserve until his honorable discharge in 1971.
Bagby said veterans typically have broad worldviews and know how to succeed at a full-time job, contrasted with Baylor’s many traditional students straight out of high school.
“They’re usually the ones at the front of the class,” she said. “They’re the ones who ask the most challenging questions. I’ve had veterans tell me over and over, a few weeks into school you’ll have traditional 18- or 19-year-olds coming to them saying, ‘Hey, can I be part of your study group? Because I can tell you’re really serious about this class.’ ”
Financial support for veterans comes through the post-9/11 G.I. Bill and the Yellow Ribbon Program, a provision in the bill allowing for even more veteran scholarships.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs determines what percentage of tuition and fees can be brought on for student veterans based on active duty service time, said Jessica Alford, Baylor’s VA coordinator and liaison.
“Most of our students are 100 percent eligible under GI,” Alford said. “But Baylor is a private school, so the VA sets the limit on tuition and fees and how much they’ll pay. At Baylor that covers at least one semester of tuition and fees, and that’s it.”
But the Yellow Ribbon Program provides a contract between Baylor and the VA, stating 100 percent eligible students will have their out-of-pocket tuition and fees covered. The two parties split that cost, Alford said.
Veterans also receive about $1,100 in monthly stipends through the program. That number is less than the national average because of Waco’s cost of living.
“We’re always trying to increase our financial support for our vets too, because sometimes they’re transferring from other schools where they could get about $1,400 a month,” Davis said. “They also get up to $1,000 a year in books.”
Bagby said many veterans are first-generation college students and sometimes have to support families.
“They just have many challenges that your typical 18- or 19-year-old student wouldn’t have,” she said.
Bagby is the faculty advisor for Veterans of Baylor, a student organization that promotes community among veterans and often works alongside VETS.
The group’s president, elementary education junior Amanda Hinshaw, was an Army medic from October 2004 to February 2013.
“The (transitional) class that Kevin does and Janet used to do was monumental for me,” Hinshaw said. “That’s how I made my first friends and figured out how to get along on campus. Then having the veterans club kept me involved in veterans community as well.”