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Training our veterans for lifetime of success

By BY BILL HAMMOND
June 7, 2013 at 1:07 a.m.


In his inaugural lecture at the Wilson Center's Lee Hamilton Lecture Series, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen said, "I believe that the defining domestic policy challenge of our age will be how we keep faith with this returning generation of young Americans, particularly our wounded warriors, their families and the families of the fallen."

Mullen went on to suggest that we can't simply thank them for their service and wish them a nice life; we need to address their needs for employment and other services. In today's world, the bridge between education and employment has never been more connected.

Today, many returning veterans - and even their active duty colleagues - are pursuing education and career skills to facilitate their transition from war zones to factory floors. One timely example would be that Fort Bliss veterans returning to civilian life can rely on the strong presence of career schools and colleges in the El Paso community to reach their education goals with various programs in the engineering, allied health, technology, cosmetology and hospitality industries.

While all sectors of higher education are engaged, our state's private career colleges and universities are in the lead in this effort because of their flexible schedules, and their academic delivery fits the needs of today's veteran. While traditional schools serve 13 percent of the nation's postsecondary students, career colleges are honored to serve 26 percent of veterans. More than 325,000 military and veteran students, their spouses and their dependents choose private sector colleges and universities as the path toward full and meaningful employment.

They should be proud of this service. It reflects the best of innovation in higher education to design and deliver instruction in ways that meet the students' needs. However, they must keep faith with these military and veteran students by ensuring that the quality of their instruction is of the highest caliber in every sense.

During last year's political and policy debates about military and veteran education on Capitol Hill, private-sector career-colleges made five commitments to military and veteran education. The most significant was the creation of a Blue Ribbon Task Force to develop a set of best practices for military and veteran students. The best practices begin with a strong commitment to providing consumer information ranging from accreditation to credit transfer and occupational earnings to academic costs. It's the kind of data that veterans (and all students) should have access to before they choose their college or university.

Once veterans are enrolled, they need the best service possible to help them graduate. Many of these colleges and universities are establishing an office of military and veterans affairs and creating a military student center to serve as the guidance hub for military and veteran students who need timely responses to their questions.

Private career colleges are also encouraging new tracking data and research related to outcomes in ways that can inform us all - veterans, current and future students, school administrators and even our policy makers - to help us keep pace with the changing demands of appropriate educational services.

All of higher education should carefully review the Blue Ribbon recommendations for use in determining what to provide for those who serve and who have already served. A recent national survey by Gallup and the Lumina Foundation found that 71 percent of Americans believe postsecondary education is important for jobs and financial security. Private-sector career colleges in Texas are committed to promoting the best practices to help veterans obtain jobs and, more importantly, because it is simply the right thing to do.

Bill Hammond is the president and CEO of the Texas Association of Business.

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