The University of Mississippi has been recognized as a top institution for military veteran students for 2019 by both Military Times and College Factual. Military Times ranked Ole Miss among the leaders in student veteran treatment in its annual rankings, with the university coming in at No. 85 nationally among all public institutions.
Ole Miss also finished in the top 5 percent of schools nationally, No. 65 among public universities – for “veteran friendliness” in College Factual’s Best for Vets category for 2019. It is the second straight year that the university has been the best school for veterans in Mississippi on the College Factual list.
“(The rankings) are huge for the university, because we essentially are a new office,” said Andrew Newby, assistant director of veteran and military services. “In 2013, (the university) really began the initiative of putting a priority on veterans. So, we went basically from nonexistence to now being recognized in multiple publications.”
The rankings consider a variety of factors, including veteran affordability, veteran support services, and available resources, that combine to form the best educational experience for student veterans. The goal, according to College Factual, is to “help veterans identify colleges that are likely to be supportive of them and their unique needs.”
Newby said the approach is important because student veterans face different challenges than traditional students.
“This gives us the ability to say to these veterans, ‘If you want a good college experience and you want somebody who understands all the facets of you as a veteran, then this is where you go in Mississippi,'” Newby said. “We are putting faces and names to that invisible identity of ‘a veteran.'”
According to College Factual, Ole Miss’s highest categorical ranking was second nationwide for student veterans seeking degrees in health professions.
UM has instituted programs that allow student veterans to have their voices heard and to allow individual issues to be addressed, said Evan Ciocci, Student Veterans Association President.
“It is eye-opening to see how much the student veterans program has grown in my time here,” Ciocci said. “We’ve improved immensely to change the atmosphere surrounding student veterans in higher education. With the Veterans Resource Center and Veteran Treatment Team, resources have been more accessible ranging from academic success to health care.”
The Veterans Resource Center opened in February in the E.F. Yerby Conference Center. The center provides the university’s 1,400 military-connected students with academic resources, test materials and a place to gather and connect. The Veterans Treatment Team brings together a collection of health care professionals, social workers, and academic resources on campus to provide student veterans with a holistic plan to achieve their educational and personal goals.
That hands-on approach with each individual veteran allows the university to separate itself from its peers, Newby said.
“At the end of the day, we are making happy alumni who are successful in the workforce,” said Newby. “When you come to Ole Miss, I’m going to make sure you can get a job, that you’re going to enjoy your time and that you’re going to have good memories of being an Ole Miss Rebel.”
The needs of veterans are evolving and often, the old traditions of only providing a place for student veterans to gather and trade war stories are not enough for the younger generation of military students, Newby said.
“That’s what today’s vet does not want,” said Newby. “So, what we went out from there to do was to give them a sense of purpose. They all have servant’s hearts. That’s why they joined the military. So why not make the SVA a service organization that actually does things you want to be a part of?”
Newby and others did this by implementing a variety of community and campus service opportunities for student veterans to get involved, including the Ole Miss Wish, a philanthropic effort that works with military families to give children an unforgettable Ole Miss experience. In addition, the office of Veteran and Military services staff says they do not plan to rest on their laurels, as new programs are in the works on campus.
“We are actively working toward more resources to help transition veterans and set them up for success in higher education and into their career fields,” Ciocci said. “I see a bright future for veterans’ services as we continue to grow.”