Paul Knudtson, director of Armed Services Relations at National Louis University in Chicago, is not unlike many of today’s OEF/OIF veterans. He’s married, has several children and honorably served his country.
Paul believes in service, like many who serve and have served in uniform, and has continued his “service” after taking off the uniform in helping transform how the university provides services to veterans and military-connected family members.
This “transformation” – what is known as ‘wrap-around” services – is producing some impressive results. The eight services, which include career, mental health/social, curriculum, physical health, legal, academic, spiritual and financial support, are not all academically focused and play a key role in helping veteran students succeed in their studies and life.
Paul and NLU are witnessing first-hand how this approach produces impressive results. “With wrap-around services available, NLU’s student veterans demonstrated an 84 percent engagement rate, a 34 percent improvement in term-to-term retention rates, and an 87 percent employment rate.”
NLU, founded in 1886 by urban education pioneer Elizabeth Harrison to train immigrant women as kindergarten teachers — and led by Nivine Megahed, Ph.D., the University’s 11th president and third female president in 61 years — is setting its sights on becoming a national leader in best practices for veterans education.
That target isn’t far off. NLU’s dedication and focus on veterans and military-connected families is quickly establishing them as a leader among thousands of colleges who have yet to embrace veterans or their families as a specific market to attract.
As Paul and team work to raise money that will establish a one-stop center at the Chicago NLU campus, they will join the “elite” ranks of only a handful of colleges. One of those is Edmonds Community College, which under the direction of Dr. Jean Hernandez, raised over one million dollars from their Boots to Books Campaign to improve and support on-campus veteran services and a well-trafficked Vet Center that includes a lounge, computer center, study rooms, several conference rooms, two counseling offices and a resource center.
Bottom line: as Paul suggested, and we certainly embrace, colleges that embrace the “wrap-around” strategy that leverages community-based organizations and experts along with on-campus assets will mirror what is known by military-connected families and veterans from their experience in the service: an all-encompassing, inclusive environment. This approach will not only produce better students and graduation success rates but also more employed veterans and family members, which is a key win for not only colleges and the states where they are located, but also for veterans.
— By Michael Schindler
Michael Schindler, Navy veteran, and president of Edmonds-based Operation Military Family, is a guest writer for several national publications, author of the book “Operation Military Family” and “The Military Wire” blog. He is also a popular keynote and workshop speaker who reaches thousands of service members and their families every year through workshops and seminars that include “How to Battle-Ready Your Relationship” or “What Your Mother-in-Law Didn’t Tell You.” He received the 2010 Outstanding Patriotic Service Award from the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs.