Can You Define ‘Veteran Friendly’?

In a world filled with buzzwords, higher ed institutions need to go beyond signaling and be truly active and present in the lives of their military and veteran students.

By: Michael Brown

Once a student veteran myself, I wasn’t too concerned with rankings, but it was something that was sort of in the background and played a small role in the decision I made. As I have moved through my professional life, and now as a college administrator in the student veteran space at Villanova University, it appears—at least, from my perspective—that these rankings may have become more meaningful to some people but they are also saturating the market.

The rankings include “Best for Vets,” “Military Friendly” and, of course, the US News and World Report rankings, just to name a few. Colleges and universities across this country love to proclaim their friendliness toward student veterans. The institutions fill out random surveys, answer the questions and await the final rankings, so they can show everyone just how friendly they are. 

What do these rankings tell us, and what do they really mean? How do we come up with the metrics to grade institutions? Is it the number of veterans on campus, the resources made available to them, the availability of a center on campus or a combination of all of these, with weighted measures on some?

If we truly want to find schools and universities that are indeed veteran-friendly, we should first find a definition for that term. In looking at the metrics from several of these rankings, there are a few markers that determine if a school is friendly toward veterans: tuition discounts, application fee waivers and a website detailing veteran support on campus, as well as acceptance of VA education benefits, Joint Service Transcript credits and CLEP tests. 

These are all very good policies to have on a college campus, and these do assist veterans and service members as they make choices. I will contend, however, that there is much more to the puzzle than just these pieces. Policies such as these are the floor when looking at supporting student veterans; in my opinion, we should be aiming for the ceiling. 

How do we get there? Does every school have the resources to hit the ceiling, or is the floor level good enough when it comes to these rankings? Here are three things that a college or university can do to go from friendly to ready in the military and veteran space. 

Support from Campus Leadership

The ladder to becoming truly veteran-friendly includes support and political will from the leadership at the institution. If you have a veterans office but have little to no support from the top, it will be hard to make real progress toward reaching the aforementioned ceiling. The will of leadership is the primary barometer for having a successful military-connected office on a college campus. 

In my visits to several schools and my conversations with people who also work in this space, the difference in support from the top can vary from one end of the spectrum to the next. Yet, there are other markers that can help make your college or university truly military/veteran ready. 

Emphasis on Community

If you ask veterans about the one thing they miss from their time in service, many will say the people with whom they served. The bond, support and sense of belonging are very strong in the military, and upon getting out, it can be difficult to find or replicate those feelings. We have a strong alumni network at Villanova, and the network’s mentorship and leadership have been incredible as we have built this office over the past five years. 

The community does not have to be only veterans—although that is important; it is just as important to find mentors, friends, associates and others who are not veterans. The key here is having a strong network of people on whom the veteran can rely, ask for help or just grab a coffee. With the help of the career center, alumni office and other campus stakeholders, Villanova places a strong emphasis on community, and this has shown to be very effective in the growth of our students, the hiring of our graduates and the success they have in the classroom and beyond

Military/Veteran-Specific Support on Campus 

As veterans transition out of the military, their skills at writing resumes, getting prepped for job interviews, communication and academic skills (e.g., note taking, test taking, studying, etc.) may need a refresh. At Villanova, we have someone in the career center who is dedicated to working with this population. She helps translate those military skills to a civilian resume, works on LinkedIn with students and assists students in their career journeys. 

She also comes to the campus veteran center monthly to have conversations with students, bringing resource availability right to them. It is not enough to just put up a building and say “look at us, we are veteran friendly.” The veteran center must be a hub of activity, filled with opportunity, resources and an environment conducive to veteran success. 

Are there other policies and practices that can move the needle? Absolutely, but these three, in conjunction with other common practices, can pay dividends and help prepare your campus to move from a veteran-friendly to a veteran-ready institution. 

Editor’s note: Below is the full-length film “Warrior Class” produced by students at Villanova University and the winner of the Standout Villy Filmmaker Award for Villys 2021. Projects such as this one are indicative of supportive leadership filtering through all aspects of an institution. According to the film summary, “Warrior Class tells the story of three veterans from the War on Terror. Despite all being from the Philadelphia area, the veterans come from different backgrounds and have been uniquely shaped … [The film] takes you through their transitions from the military to civilian life … Through the exposure of these three veterans’ experiences, the film validates veterans while informing civilians what it means to be a veteran.”

Michael Brown

Michael Brown


Michael Brown joined the US Army after high school, serving 4 years on active duty and deploying to Bosnia with the 1st Armored Division. Following his service, he attended Northern Michigan University, majoring in political science and applied ethics. In 2007, he was hired by Congressman-elect Patrick Murphy, the first Iraq War veteran in congress, to be military and veterans affairs director. Michael became the first director of the office of veterans and military service members at Villanova University in October 2018.

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