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How Higher Ed Can Better Serve Veterans: 3 Insights from the CEO of a Post-9/11 Support Organization

Written by 2U on Aug 31, 2021

Related content: Higher Education, Diversity And Inclusion, Leadership

L-R: IAVA's Jeremy Butler, 2U's David Sutphen

In the latest EDU: Live, 2U’s David Sutphen welcomed special guest Jeremy Butler, the CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), to his monthly discussion series on equity, access, and opportunity in higher education and beyond.

An adventurer at heart, Jeremy Butler began the conversation by sharing the reason he enlisted in the Navy in 1999: that famous slogan, “Join the Navy and see the world!” But two years later, America was attacked on September 11, 2001—and Butler’s outlook on military service transformed instantly. “It went from being an adventure to being very, very real,” he explained. “What had been a plan of doing four years in the Navy and getting out completely changed.”

Fast forward to today, and Butler is still part of the Navy Reserve. He’s also the CEO of the premier veteran support organization that connects, unites, and empowers post-9/11 veterans through education, advocacy, and community.

Read on for three key insights from Butler on how higher ed institutions can better serve veteran students and active-duty military in the modern era—driving diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the process.

Veterans are often working in a different way than many other students. There has to be an understanding that these folks often have a lot going on in their lives, and the university may need to be a bit more flexible.
— Jeremy Butler, CEO, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America

1. The Military and Diversity Go Hand in Hand

Veterans are an incredibly diverse group of people, Butler says. Yet, many universities fail to incorporate this population into their DEI strategies. “A lot of people don’t realize how diverse the military is,” he explained. “Something like 40% of the overall [military] population comes from minority backgrounds.”

In addition to being a racially diverse group, veterans also span the age and gender spectrums. For example, IAVA veterans range from 30 to 65 years old, and 20% are women. Looking at these numbers, it’s clear that supporting veterans means supporting DEI efforts—the two are intertwined.

Overlooked and underserved by higher ed, veterans have dedicated their lives to service. Now, Butler says, universities should do their best to serve them in return.

2. Help Veterans Maximize GI Bill Benefits with Internal Support

For university leadership, Butler says the first step to supporting veteran students is to ensure there are people on staff who understand the GI Bill system in and out. As he emphasized, ​​the GI Bill is “one of the greatest benefits for veterans,” helping them pay for college, graduate school, and training programs through the Veterans Benefits Administration.

By having GI Bill experts on staff, universities can more quickly process critical paperwork, report back to federal organizations, and help veterans get the most of their educational opportunities.

3. Flexibility Is Key in Supporting Veteran Students

Butler also explained that universities must undergo a mindset shift to recognize that most veterans are going to be nontraditional students.

“They’re going to have a different desire and are often working in a different way than many other students,” he said. “They might not want to live on campus. They might be working odd hours. They probably have a full-time or part-time job. Some of them are also continuing to serve in the reserves or the National Guard. Some might be getting deployed. There has to be an understanding that these folks often have a lot going on in their lives, and the university may need to be a bit more flexible.”

Ultimately, universities that support veteran students will reap lasting benefits. As Butler put it, “I think they’ll find that these veterans prove to be incredible student leaders and educators who make a really strong contribution to the diversity of the student body.”

Want to Hear More? Watch the Full Episode Below

You can also register for the next EDU: Live episode scheduled for Wednesday, September 22 with Dr. Carolyn “Biddy” Martin, president of Amherst College. See you there!

EDU: Live with IAVA's Jeremy Butler with 2U's David Sutphen

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