The student veteran and eligible dependent population at the University of Texas at Austin is one of many important groups on campus that the University serves. We recognize this group has faced many challenges prior to enrolling at UT, and that navigating access to state and federal education benefits should not be one of them.
Since the inception of the Post-9/11 GI Bill and changes to the Hazlewood Act, a law that provides tuition exemptions to eligible veterans and their dependents, were made in 2009, there has been a significant increase in the number of eligible students seeking to use their benefits.
UT-Austin has seen the effect of this increase; since 2009 the University has experienced an increase of more than 275 percent in Hazlewood exemption requests and a 22.5 percent increase in students requesting benefits provided by the GI Bill.
According to the National Center for Veteran Analysis and Statistics, the Central Texas area has the fastest-growing population of veterans in the nation. In spring 2013 alone, the University had 1,494 individuals requesting benefits.
The increased number of eligible students has extended the time it takes for students to gain access to these benefits nationwide, as well as here on our campus. Recognizing this, we have launched efforts to improve the experience for our student veterans and dependents by bringing together all offices assisting this population on campus — the Office of the Registrar, the Office of Admissions, the Office of Accounting and Student Veteran Services — to review how other institutions are serving their student veterans and to implement a unified approach to address the realities facing such students on our campus.
Additionally, we engaged students by collaborating with the Student Veteran Association, the official student veteran group on campus.
Over the past year, through this collaboration with students and various offices on campus, the University has worked hard to expedite students’ access to the GI Bill and the Hazlewood exemption.
The Office of the Registrar sought input from Student Veteran Services and the Student Veteran Association and developed strategies to improve the experience of student veterans and eligible dependents seeking to use their benefits. As a result of these collaborations, we enhanced the benefit sessions during orientations to assist students as soon as they arrive on campus. The Office of the Registrar also made a number of improvements to its internal processes and developed informational websites to better explain the benefits and how to access them.
The university created a tuition coverage program that allowed for 79 percent of the students using federal education benefits used to secure their enrollment before they had paid their tuition. In doing so, the program kept qualified students from having to take action on their tuition costs before they had received their federal funding. The Office of the Registrar and Student Veteran Services have additionally worked together to ensure comprehensive office hours at locations across campus to provide easy access to expert guidance regarding benefits.
The cooperation among various offices on campus and the Student Veteran Association has resulted in a student veteran experience far different from this time last year. We will continue to work together as a University to serve students in the most efficient way possible, evaluate our processes and seek strategic and innovative solutions to the challenges we may face.
Benjamin Armstrong is the Director of Student Veteran Services at the University. Shelby Stanfield is a Vice Provost and the University Registrar.