U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) visited Northern Illinois University Wednesday with the aim of learning how the school has made serving veterans a priority through a range of academic, health and financial services.
“A college diploma is a fundamental part of the American Dream, and no one deserves to see that dream fulfilled more than the brave men and women who serve in our nation’s armed forces,” Durbin said.
“The transition from solider to student is often not an easy one, but Northern Illinois has taken the lead in helping our state’s veterans find their place on campus as they pursue a quality, affordable higher education. I applaud Northern Illinois for its focus on our nation’s veterans and urge other colleges and universities to follow its lead.”
NIU’s Military Student Services office, which opened in the fall of 2010, serves as a resource and single point of contact for the university’s veteran and military students.
The center offers assistance processing veterans’ education benefits, confidential counseling and mental health assessment, individual student advocacy, assistance navigating federal and state programs for veterans, social and educational programing, specialized orientation and transition services, and a dedicated space to relax, study and connect with other veterans.
“NIU remains committed to supporting veterans in all aspects of their academic and personal lives,” said Kelly Wesener Michael, NIU acting vice president of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management. “Military Student Services is a ‘one-stop-shop’ where our students can apply for educational benefits, connect with peers and learn how to successfully navigate the university.”
Northern Illinois was ranked 28th in the country by Military Times as “Best for Vets” and received the 2nd Governor’s award for Excellence in Veterans Education in 2010. Approximately 850 military and veteran students attend the university.
NIU also earned a spot in October on Victory Media’s coveted Military Friendly Schools® list, which honors the top 15 percent of colleges, universities and trade schools that are doing the most to embrace America’s military service members, veterans and spouses as students and to ensure their success on campus.
During his visit, Durbin sat down with several student veterans and program administrators to discuss their experience at Northern Illinois and hear how the Military Student Services office has improved their life on campus. Each student shared his or her service history, course of study, and plans for the future. Durbin also spoke with NIU Trustee Robert Boey, President John G. Peters and his future successor, Douglas Baker.
In his conversation with the students, Durbin also pointed out the vast differences between quality institutions like Northern Illinois and for-profit colleges, which far too often offer low-quality degrees and market aggressively to veterans in order to benefit from federal tuition assistance programs.
Under federal law, for-profit schools may only derive 90 percent of their total revenue from the federal government; however, veterans’ benefits do not count toward this total, creating an incentive for these schools to aggressively pursue veterans and their GI Bill benefits. Last year, Durbin introduced the Protecting Our Students and Taxpayers (POST) Act which would eliminate this loophole and the incentive for-profit colleges have to recruit veterans.
“NIU shows how public universities can provide military students with a solid education and a real career path,” Durbin said.