Adult Learner and Veteran Services’ value-based model combats misperceptions

Ravyn Cullor

In order to combat the perception of veterans they see on campus, Colorado State University organizations are actively working to showcase student veterans’ value in the community. 

Adult Learner and Veteran Services has built a new resource model, known as the value-based model, around the strengths that student veterans bring to campus.

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“A lot of campus services … inherently are needs-driven,” ALVS Director Marc Barker said. “That’s really important, but sometimes where we fall short when we’re in that needs driven model is getting beyond ‘what next?’”

The value-based model is a response to the Post-9/11 resource model, which focused on the challenges and cost of having student veterans on campus. The model is centered around the strengths and skills that student veterans bring from their service in the military like leadership, discipline and time management.

Barker said the value-based model is important for student veterans because the perception of who they are and what challenges they will face on campus is misguided.

“Nobody in Hollywood has made a movie about a student veteran that is an honor student and a 4.0 student at a university,” Barker said. “There have been lots of movies made about the veteran that’s struggling with PTSD. It’s what sells movies. It’s the tragic story.” 

Barker said there is a perception that student veterans are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries and other consequences from their military service which make it difficult for them to function on campus and for universities to serve them. The value-based model’s mission is to change that narrative.

“When people are saying, ‘how can we help you. We want to make sure you feel comfortable,’ it only advances the negative perceptions,” said Josh Johnson, an Airforce student veteran, a peer advisor at ALVS and the Student Veterans of America CSU chapter president.

Johnson said the value-based model both combats misperceptions about veterans’ academic capabilities and builds resources that communicate to student veterans that they can be successful on campus.

The SVA’s national chapter has collected data on the student veterans using the Post-9/11 GI Bill to get a secondary education since 2009. The National Veteran Education Success Tracker revealed 72 percent of student veterans successfully get a post-secondary education. Their top three fields of study are business, STEM and health, and 25 percent of student veterans get a second degree or certificate.

Nobody in Hollywood has made a movie about a student veteran that is an honor student and a 4.0 student at a university,” Barker said, “There have been lots of movies made about the veteran that’s struggling with PTSD. It’s what sells movies. It’s the tragic story.”  Mark Barker, Director of Adult Learner and Veterans Services

According to the study, veterans have earned nearly a half million degrees since 2009. The study projects in ten years that number will be upwards of 1.4 million.

Johnson said student veterans face many of the same challenges as adult learners, including getting back into the swing of academics, commuting, balancing family and school, working and, most central to the ALVS, coming to a university where they don’t have an established community.

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Barker said that is what their center is for, and, most of the time, there are no free seats in the center. He also said the ALVS is working to raise money to build a new center with a greater capacity.

The center tries to foster a sense of community by creating a friendly and conversational space for the students, Barker said.

The ALVS has also developed a peer mentor program to help new student veterans navigate the campus.

“The peer mentoring program puts students in a peer advising role that have already experienced the value-based model,” said Barker. “Having those folks advise their peers and share that narrative is huge.”

Johnson said the peer mentor program reflects the sponsor structures that student veterans recognize from their military service.

“Our students are used to transferring to new bases (and having a) sponsor assigned to them so before they get there they can ask questions and have someone that shows them around,” Johnson said. “The peer advising program does the same.”

The ALVS also connects student veterans who are struggling with challenges from their military tenure to resources available on campus, but does so on an individual basis, Barker said.

While the value-based model has created a community for student veterans and focused on changing the narrative around the value of vets on campus, Johnson said not enough people in the community know what it is.

But, Barker said the support from the University has helped the value-based model grow and touch more people.

“CSU is the number five ranked public institute by Military Times for our veterans programming,” Barker said. “On every corner of campus, there are folks willing to step up and do the work to help us create and promote our programming and support our students.”

Ravyn Cullor can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @RCullor99