October 01, 2010

SIUC ranks second in nation for serving veterans

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s focus on assisting student military veterans in their return to the classroom is again earning national recognition.

In its October issue, Military Times Edge magazine ranks SIUC second in the nation in making student military veterans’ success a priority. In the magazine’s inaugural survey, “Best for Vets: Colleges,” SIUC is second among the top 101 accredited universities, colleges, community colleges and distance-learning institutions.

The magazine’s editors invited more than 4,000 institutions to tell them of their programs, with responses evaluated in four categories: financial assistance, academic flexibility, campus culture, and support services. SIUC earned the highest possible ranking of five stars for financial assistance, 4.5 stars for academic flexibility, and four stars each for campus culture and support services.

“Our veterans have given their best on our behalf, and we appreciate the opportunity to return the favor,” Chancellor Rita Cheng said. “We are gratified that our faculty, staff and students are being recognized for their dedication to helping our student veterans achieve academic and career success.”

In May, SIUC received the inaugural Governor’s Award for Excellence in Veterans Education, recognizing the University’s efforts to enhance the educational experiences of student military veterans. For the past several years the University has received recognition as one of the nation’s top military-friendly colleges and universities from Military Advanced Education and G.I. Jobs magazines for its efforts in assisting both veterans and active-duty military personnel.

There are 711 student veterans enrolled this semester, the largest for any state institution in Illinois, said Chris Piha, SIUC Veterans Center coordinator. In addition, the University also provides educational offerings and services to approximately 1,400 active-duty military and student veterans enrolled in off-campus programs at 27 military bases and 12 civilian locations in the United States, according to Thomas H. Beebe, director of SIUC’s Office of Military Programs.

The magazine ranked Eastern Kentucky University No. 1, followed by SIUC, with a tie for third between Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla., and South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City, S.D.

SIUC is one of three universities in Illinois to make the list. Western Illinois University (25), Northern Illinois University (49) and American InterContinental University, based in Hoffman Estates, (91), are also in the rankings.

Piha learned of the magazine’s designation this week, and said he is extremely proud of the ranking. A lot of administrators “have taken a lot of time in their off-duty hours working with and for veterans,” he said.

“It’s a collaboration between a lot of different departments on campus,” Piha said. “It’s an honor to be ranked as the No. 2 school in the nation for veterans. It says a lot about our commitment to the men and women who have served this country.”

The SIUC Veterans Center opened earlier this year in Woody Hall, and is among the University’s efforts to enhance educational experiences of student military veterans.

The Veterans Center provides a wide array of information and services to student veterans, including insight into financial aid, admissions, academic and health resources, housing guides, and the University’s Disability Support Services’ Success Program for Veterans, which is partially funded by Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs and the U.S. Department of Education Special Education and Rehabilitation.

“This is something we have all worked for. We have spent a lot of our time focusing on how we can improve our veterans’ services. It not only shows we are passionate about serving our veterans on campus but we are setting a standard for the rest of the nation.”

In June, the magazine noted the University is ranked 37th by active-duty service members who used tuition assistance during the 2009 fiscal year. Beebe said the University also serves its off-campus active-duty and veteran population very well. During a tour of Scott Air Force Base on Monday, Beebe said the wing commander told him that he appreciates the University’s dedication to helping active-duty servicemembers and veterans pursue their educational goals.