By Kathleen Tibbetts
SMU’s population of students who are military veterans has seen an increase of nearly 150 percent since fall 2008. And the vast majority of those new students are post-9/11 veterans, says Veronica Decena of the University’s Division of Enrollment Services.
Veterans with 36 months or more of service are eligible for 100 percent of benefits available under the Post-9/11 GI Bill, signed into law in July 2008 and effective as of August 2009. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) pays some or all tuition and fees for service members who have served on active duty for 90 or more days since September 10, 2001.
Benefits are tiered based on the number of days served on active duty, beginning at 40 percent and increasing up to 100 percent. In addition, the new GI bill gives current and previously activated National Guard and Reserve members the same benefits as active-duty service members.
At SMU, student vets first apply to the undergraduate or graduate school of their choice. Enrollment Services then works with the VA to certify their benefits of eligibility. The process begins the first week of classes, giving students time to add or drop courses as needed before their hours are reported to the VA.
“The VA pays for classes only in a veteran’s program plan, so it’s our job to ensure that the classes they are enrolled in are part of the student’s program,” Decena says.
Certification of eligibility also triggers a monthly housing allowance based on the ZIP code of the school attended, as well as a book stipend of $41 per credit hour up to $1,000 per year. Those who receive housing money must be enrolled more than half time and take at least one class per semester on an SMU campus, whether the main campus, SMU-in-Plano or SMU-in-Taos.
Currently SMU has two officials certified to navigate the VA’s benefits systems. “We’ve developed a couple of new processes, and we learn as we grow,” Decena says. “If we continue to experience the veteran enrollment boom that we’ve had so far, I can foresee us devoting more resources solely to our student vets.”
Meanwhile, Decena’s favorite part of her job is “seeing the amazement of prospective veteran students who visit us and plan to apply but still wonder if they really can come to SMU,” she says. “They’ve heard it, they’ve read it, but when they learn that this is actually attainable, they’re just astonished. It’s an awesome feeling to know we’re making this possible.”
Learn more from SMU’s Division of Enrollment Services. http://smu.edu/enrollment_services/
# # #