The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.



Saint Mary’s offers money to student service members

Megan Loney | Friday, August 21, 2009

Saint Mary’s is expanding its efforts to help student veterans, service members and their families with help from grants and gifts.

In July, Saint Mary’s announced it is one of 21 higher education institutions in Indiana to receive a share of $270,000 in grants given by Operation Diploma, a program designed by Purdue University’s Military Research Institution, and a $5.8 million gift from the Lilly Endowment.

The Operation Diploma grant is designed to “help institutions and student veteran organizations implement policies and programs that assist in the transition from combat to the classroom,” the Military Family Research Institute at Purdue Web site said.

With a focus on student service members and veterans – both those beginning their college education and those who are returning to college after extended service or deployment – this grant will enable the College to make the transition from service to school smooth for these students.

Studies have shown that students who have served or are currently serving in the military may deal with barriers to their education, such as feeling frustrated, alone and misunderstood on college campuses.

A grant of $14,999 will assist with Saint Mary’s plans to form a task force to oversee the grant and review the issues involved with recruiting and enrolling veterans, develop a strategy to recruit veterans, train student affairs staff to address the unique issues veterans face and develop a peer support network for veterans.

The number of veterans who have attended and are currently attending Saint Mary’s is not currently available, but data is being gathered.

Recruiting student service members, veterans and military family members is important to Saint Mary’s College for several reasons, vice president of student affairs Karen Johnson said.

“We believe that we offer the kind of education that women veterans are seeking – small, intense classes, faculty interaction – and that we can also offer great leadership opportunities for women veterans,” Johnson said. “Additionally, bringing women veterans to campus will provide other diverse viewpoints and the interactions with women who have had amazing lives.”

In addition to Operation Diploma, Saint Mary’s is also participating in the Yellow Ribbon Program, a new federal program sponsored by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs intended to help veterans attend college or graduate school.

“Saint Mary’s involvement in the Yellow Ribbon Program provides an ideal partnership with the Veteran’s Administration to reach out to meet the needs of female veterans who have given of the time and talents to serve this great nation,” Dan Meyer, vice president for enrollment management, said in a June press release.

The Post-9/11 GI Bill covers the cost of attending the most expensive in-state tuition at a public institution in each state. Veterans may also choose to attend private institutions that, under the Yellow Ribbon Program, have agreed to pay at least some of the extra cost. The private institutions determine the number of students that may receive aid and the amount of tuition it will cover, and the VA matches this amount.

Up to five qualifying students could potentially attend the school free of charge for the 2009-2010 academic year, as a result of the agreement between Saint Mary’s and the VA.

Saint Mary’s is awarding this financial aid on a first come, first serve basis. The five slots have not yet been filled.

“At the time this new program was announced we had already set our aid budget for the 2009-10,” director of financial aid Kathleen Brown said. “In addition, as with any new program there were a lot of unknowns at the time we had to make our commitment, such as how many of our students would qualify and how much it would cost. For these reasons we tried to be fiscally responsible while still showing our support for veterans and their families.”

Saint Mary’s will review the effects of the program on the students and the College at the end of the fall and will make a decision about changes for the following academic year. One factor that will influence the number of award offered next year is the amount of interest the program draws this year, Brown said.

“There has been a lot of interest, both from students enrolling this year and high school students who are in the middle of their college search,” Brown said.

Although there are only five slots available, Saint Mary’s has committed to providing the maximum amount possible for those five students – up to 50 percent of the tuition and fees not already covered by the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

Brown is positive about this program and its benefits for the College and those who are eligible.

“First, we’re excited at the possibility of potentially enrolling more veterans, and their children, at Saint Mary’s College,” Brown said. “By the nature of their experiences veterans and their children can contribute in unique ways to the diversity of our student body and enhance the learning experience for all of our students. Second, this program provides one more way we can make a Saint Mary’s education affordable for more families.”