Maverick Perspectives: UTA is best for vets
By James Kumm
This column represents the views of the author.
As a veteran with 14 years of military experience, I appreciate the sincere thank-yous and tips of the cap I occasionally receive when someone learns of my service.
But what’s more meaningful is when those expressions of patriotism and gratitude get translated into action — and that is what the University of Texas at Arlington does every day by providing crucial support and services to military-connected students.
UTA is the nation’s No. 1 four-year institution for veterans and their families to earn a college degree. The Military Times’ Best for Vets: Colleges 2020 list recognized UTA for its 85% veteran graduation rate and its large population of service members and veterans, totaling more than 3,100.
The publication specifically cited UTA for its ability “to connect faculty and staff who served in the military with students who served, providing mentors who understand the military background.”
I’m one of those UTA staffers and mentors. As executive director of veterans programs at the university and a former staff sergeant in the Army, I’ve found a new mission — and feel fortunate to know it’s just as important as my previous one.
Put simply, UTA gets veterans on campus, helps them get them educated and then helps them get jobs.
All of North Texas should be proud to know that UTA is better at this than any university in the country. We transition military-connected students into the university community and then transition them out into the workforce.
So why the University of Texas at Arlington?
First and foremost, it’s because the North Texas is an attractive destination for veterans. I haven’t found any student vets yet who didn’t cite our region’s job market as a factor in their decision to move here when their service time is up.
Our region’s corporations have become critical partners in UTA’s success with vets. We’ve teamed up with major employers such as Blue Cross Blue Shield, Toyota, UPS and Lockheed Martin for corporate dialogues that help us prepare military-connected students to become workforce-ready.
Career development is the major focus at UTA, because that’s what our student vets tell us they want.
Most of our student vets are adult learners; the average age is 33. Many have spouses and children. Most have part- or full-time jobs and full-time course loads. Some are navigating medical issues that require trips to VA hospitals and clinics.
It’s a schedule and a burden of responsibilities that would overwhelm many. But our veterans and military-connected students are resilient. Punctuality, attention to detail, motivation, drive — all of these are hallmarks of the military. And they are qualities that enable successful civilian careers.
Given their backgrounds, it’s no surprise that our military-connected students maintain average GPAs that range from 3.0 to 3.3 and disproportionately end up in rigorous academic tracks, such as nursing, electrical engineering or business.
After years of service in which they sacrificed prime earning opportunities, student vets want to get through college as quickly as they can while preserving as many of their earned GI Bill benefits as possible for their spouses and children.
UTA facilitates these goals in ways large and small. Military-connected Mavericks have access to:
- MavVets, a student veteran organization that provides campus networking with community leaders, access to veterans scholarships and community service opportunities.
- A veterans-dedicated education adviser.
- Veterans Upward Bound, a program for qualified veterans designed to motivate and assist in developing academic and other requisite skills necessary for acceptance and success in college.
- The Lockheed Martin Career Development Center, which helps veterans and other students pursue their professional goals and connect them to employment opportunities.
- VetSuccess on Campus, an on-campus program through the Department of Veterans Affairs aimed at helping veterans, service members and their qualified dependents succeed and thrive through a coordinated delivery of on-campus benefits, assistance and counseling.
UTA has a hands-on approach to student vets. We keep our costs low and maintain class schedules and online options that fit our students’ busy lifestyles. And we treat veterans as individuals, with needs that are sometimes special and sometimes overlap with the rest of our student population. It’s a formula that works wonders in Arlington.
It’s nice to thank a veteran, especially on Veterans Day. Even better is backing up gratitude and appreciation with proven, effective programs that help veterans better their lives through education and employment.
James Kumm is executive director of veterans programs at The University of Texas at Arlington. He served 14 years in the military, including four on active duty in the Army.
A version of this op-ed appeared in The Dallas Morning News.