Published: June 11, 2013 Updated 13 hours ago
By EMERY P. DALESIO — Associated Press
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — North Carolina’s public universities are trying one of the most coordinated approaches in the country for drawing military veterans who’ve left the service into higher education, U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki said Tuesday.
The former four-star Army general met with University of North Carolina President Tom Ross and leaders of university campuses from Fayetteville, Greensboro, Durham, Winston-Salem and Boone during a visit to the state’s Research Triangle region. Shinseki praised the UNC system for its efforts across all 16 campuses to attract, retain and graduate veterans.
“I’ve run into a number of other presentations that are campus-specific, but what I thought I saw here is a coordinated approach to discussing the opportunities and why it’s important to leverage them across 16 campuses, which I think is phenomenal,” Shinseki said during a meeting with reporters.
The UNC Board of Governors on Thursday is expected to vote on system-wide policies that aim to make it easier for military members, veterans and their families to earn a college degree. The policies direct Ross and individual campuses to find ways to help veterans transfer academic and work experience into UNC schools. Other policies would make it easier for students called to active duty or training in the National Guard or Reserve to withdraw and re-enter universities without financial or academic hardship.
State legislators also are considering allowing public universities to make an exception for veterans to a requirement that campuses must charge much higher tuition to anyone who hasn’t lived in the state for a year, Ross said. State law now allows active-duty military personnel, their spouses, and their dependents to be eligible for in-state tuition under certain conditions.
Under the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the federal government will pick up the full in-state cost for any honorably discharged service member wishing to attend a public college or university.
Michael Dakduk, executive director of Student Veterans of America, joined in the meetings with university officials and Shinseki. No other public university system has done as much as UNC to reach out to his organization, though individual campus presidents have listened to what student veterans face, Dakduk said.
“I’ve never seen a concerted effort by an entire system to make their entire system better for supporting veterans and to get the buy-in of all of their chancellors,” said Dakduk, whose organization has chapters at 800 college campuses in all 50 states. “They’re on the right track.
Military veterans are often not much older than traditional, four-year college students, Shinseki said, but enhance the classroom with their maturity, discipline, and time-management skills.
“These are young folks who have learned skills about negotiating and leveraging. Getting to successful outcomes,” Shinseki said. “If you hear of negotiations going on with tribal sheikhs, you hear about young people doing that – young non-commissioned officers, young officers.”
North Carolina military installations include the Army’s Fort Bragg; Marines Corps bases at Camp Lejeune, Cherry Point and New River; Seymour Johnson Air Force Base; and several Coast Guard installations including a major training center in Elizabeth City.
Once veterans attend a university, it’s common for them to find jobs nearby after graduation, building up the talent pool of the state’s workers, Ross said. But veterans also bring a worldliness and life experiences to any town they choose to settle, Ross said.
“We want to help them to stay in North Carolina,” he said.
Shinseki’s North Carolina trip included a visit to Duke University, where he earned a master’s degree in the 1970s, and the nearby Durham VA Medical Center to visit patients and staff, said Bruce Sprecher, a spokesman for the VA’s North Carolina and Virginia health care network.
The secretary also visited a traumatic brain injury research center at UNC-Chapel Hill’s exercise and sports science department. The center’s research has included work with football and hockey players, but researchers believe some of their findings could help war veterans suffering from blast injuries, Sprecher said.
Emery Dalesio can be reached at http://twitter.com/emerydalesio