Enlisted students have a different college experience

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Linda Smith

A&C Editor

 

 

 

 

Anderson is one of a few students who are also enlisted in the U.S. Armed Forces, which becomes a “juggling act” for many. -Photo courtesy of Zachary Anderson
Anderson is one of a few students who are also enlisted in the U.S. Armed Forces, which becomes a “juggling act” for many.
-Photo courtesy of Zachary Anderson

There are ample opportunities for students at the University of Dallas to stay busy. On top of classes, there are jobs both on and off campus, clubs and organizations and planning for post-UD life. Some students who feel this weight especially are students who are also enlisted in the military. On top of UD obligations and activities, they are required to report at least monthly for drills. At times, this juggling act they find themselves in is made more tedious by financial impediments and scholastic responsibilities.

“Juggling both and also making money is hard, because a lot of professors think that you have all of your time to do stuff when you don’t have all of your time, especially if every month you have a drill that takes a weekend,” senior Joseph Rubin said. “The nature of juggling it is hard [especially when] also combined with UD stuff.”

Rubin and fellow senior Kenny Waterbury, who are both in the National Guard, had basic training and advanced individual training (AIT) over the summer, which did not end until almost a week and a half after the fall 2014 semester began.

“Some teachers said, ‘You missed a quiz but I’m not going to count it because you were at military training,’ but they didn’t tell you what assignments to do or what assignments you were missing while you were gone, so when we got back it was basically just catch-up,” Rubin said. “It was tough.”

Generally, enlisted students know their drill schedules ahead of time and can give them to professors at the beginning of a semester. However, they can be called to drill with only a few days’ notice, which can lead to difficulties for tests, presentations and projects. Waterbury recently ran into difficulties rescheduling a Monday test after a full weekend of drills.

“The biggest problem [according to the professor] was he said he wouldn’t have had a problem rescheduling it if I had announced it ahead of time,” Waterbury said. “But I gave him my drill schedule at the beginning of the semester. Then I went through the proper channels, talked to Dr. [Marcy] Brown-Marsden [interim dean of Constantin College] and filed a complaint. It just came back to the same thing, like with athletes, we have to communicate and let them know ahead of time. It’s a little different. He refused to let me make up the test at another time because it would be unfair to the other students. However, I know that he had another test for another student later that week because [the student] was traveling out of town.”

The comparison to athletes is not uncommon for enlisted students. Waterbury described an “othering” effect on their group, as it is often assumed the enlisted students are in ROTC and are sometimes treated as a separate athletic group.

“I don’t know if the school understands the difference, or at least people I’ve been dealing with,” Waterbury said. “They keep referring to me as ‘ROTC’, or they make the same arrangements [as they do] for athletes, stuff like that. They associate ROTC and the regular army with athletics, and it just seems like the University of Dallas doesn’t seem to really appreciate that you do anything but school. People have to do things other than school, especially to pay for school, so I work, I do the military, I do all these things to help pay for school, when a lot of times it hinders and makes school more difficult.”

While other enlisted students have not experienced difficulties with professors, they have heard of and observed such situations.

“I haven’t been treated badly at all, but I live with Kenny and I know him pretty well, and know his situation, and it’s actually pretty bad,” senior Zachary Anderson, who is also in the National Guard, said. “It’s not something that UD can be proud of.”

While enlisting during one’s college career seems like a choice riddled with difficulties, some say it is the best time to start in the military.

“It’s a juggling act, but it’s a good one,” senior Charles Turner, who is enlisted in the Army Reserves, said. “I’m personally working towards a commissioning, so I won’t be enlisted anymore, I’ll be an officer. I was talking to recruiters and this just seemed like the best way to go about doing it. Finances are a big part of it, but since I was going to join the military anyway, this was not a bad way to do it.”

One of the biggest obstacles for military students is financial. Most enlisted students receive some tuition assistance based on their branches of service, on top of any personal scholarships awarded. However, UD does not accept federal tuition assistance, and because it is a private school, it is not a part of the Hinson-Hazlewood Act. A memorandum of understanding (MOA) from the Department of Defense (DOD) that would allow UD to accept federal tuition assistance is reviewed annually, but it remains unsigned.

“Instead, the university has shown their [sic] own commitment by giving institutional funds,” director of financial aid Taryn Anderson said. “It would be easier for us to sign the memorandum, take the government funds and give them to students. But we have a philosophical issue with the memorandum, so we’ve decided to [use] institutional funds to assist military students instead of participating at this point in time. We always have the option to sign it, so it’s continually looked at.”

Dr. John Plotts, vice president of enrollment and Student Life, is in charge of the committee that annually reviews the MOU. He noted that the position on the memorandum could change in the future, but that UD is not one of the participating schools at this time.

“While it has been quite some time since I last looked at the MOU provided by the DOD, I do recall that it was quite onerous,” Plotts said in an emailed statement. “I was not confident that UD could meet all the requirements to participate in the program. I am willing to reevaluate the university’s position on this. It is to our financial advantage to participate since the government will subsidize the cost of an active military student at the $4,500 level if all program requirements are met. At the time of my initial review, we had very few — if any — active military enrolled and seeking this funding.”

Taryn said that it seems much of the confusion comes from not realizing that as a private school that has not signed the MOU, UD cannot help military students in ways they might expect.

“I think that the miscommunication, at least on my end, is that the students have agreed to sign their contract [sic] with the military with the promise that we use tuition assistance without knowing that they can’t use it at UD,” Taryn said. “If they are looking [online at the list of schools that participate in the MOU], they would see that the University of Dallas doesn’t participate. I know from the students I’ve worked with that a lot of them find out after they’ve contracted with the military, and I can understand that that’s hard for them, and that’s why we’ve really tried to work with them.”

Taryn invited students to visit her with concerns and to seek guidance and help. She has only had about one student a year reach out, including, recently, Turner.

“When I found out [that UD did not accept federal tuition assistance], I talked to Taryn Anderson and a few other people in the school, and she actually, on my behalf, went up and talked to people above her,” Turner said. “They gave me a scholarship to bridge the gap. And they actually gave me a scholarship that matched what I would have gotten if I had been at a public university. Taryn Anderson is awesome. She’s worked with me all the way through.”

Waterbury mentioned that Pearson Education has a list of military-friendly schools, and that the University of Dallas is on that list. He said that the school is “trying to balance two worlds” and not doing it successfully, especially from a financial standpoint.

“We only found out UD didn’t accept it after we had already gone through basic [training], gone through AIT, and then registered for UD,” Rubin said. “We could have maybe gone somewhere else if we had known UD didn’t accept federal tuition assistance. In order to not go into thousands of dollars of debt, I would have rather gone somewhere that accepted it. It’s one of those moments at any institution where you feel like you’ve been caught off guard.”

Anderson described his UD experience as “good overall,” but noted that UD does not have one centralized organization to assist veterans and current service members.

“I don’t have the hugest problem with this school and how they deal with veterans,” Anderson said. “I mean, there can definitely be more interaction, because there isn’t any. Most schools have some sort of a veteran link or advocacy group or something like that. UD doesn’t really have anything along those lines. If something needs to be done, you pretty much have to go walk around all the offices to find someone who can help you out.”

While Turner and others reported an overall good experience with UD, some enlisted students have additional responsibilities that they said need to be considered while they are in school.

“I have heard of a couple instances where someone says, ‘I have drill for three days so I’ll be absent Friday,’ and the teacher says ‘No excused absences,’” Turner said. “But I have not really run into that myself. Maybe there are a couple teachers who are off their rocker a little bit, and there’s [sic] just difficulties when you have so many obligations. Other people have obligations, too, and this is ours.”

-Sally Krutzig and Patricia Brennan contributed reporting to this article.

1 COMMENT

  1. Awesome article ladies. Thank you for taking this on.

    As a student veteran myself, it is painfully obvious how much central advocacy for Student Veterans, both currently serving in the reserves and those who have completed their service is needed. There is no actual voice of students really present on this campus. Like the article cited, the majority of the campus thinks that student veterans and reservists are ROTC when this is not the case at all

    I know that the university is starting to take steps to start gathering resources, but without a student group (which with the rules around starting up groups on campus being ambiguous and unchanging), a lack of dedicated staff members to exclusively the issue of veterans advocacy (instead of simply processing benefits) and no real way for us to get together or recognized, it’s difficult.

    I hope that in the very near future that that advocacy for student veterans can be something that actually happens instead of something discussed, bantered about and “planned for”.

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