I had the distinct honor of attending several events Tuesday that acknowledged the many veterans who have and who continue to protect the freedoms we enjoy in our nation. Thank you for your service and sacrifice for our country.
Another reason for celebration is that the NIU Veterans Association is marking its 60th anniversary this year, testimony to the commitment that our university has made to America’s returning vets. This is the oldest student organization on campus and was formed the same year as the nation’s first official Veterans Day in 1954.
Additionally, the NIU Huskie ROTC Battalion has been providing quality leadership to the U.S. Army and Illinois Army National Guard for more than 40 years.
This is a particularly appropriate time to not only honor our veterans and thank them for their service, but also to reflect on the challenges they face in integrating back into civilian life and the crucial role that higher education can play in ensuring that they lead the lives they deserve after their service to their country.
As we heard NIU Police Chief and Army veteran Tom Phillips say at the NIU ceremony, each veteran has a unique story of how military service has shaped his or her life. Unfortunately, among those stories are those of the hurdles former service members face in finding jobs. Approximately three of every four veterans have struggled with unemployment, and more than 25 percent have searched for more than a year for jobs, according to Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.
The good news is that higher education is a tremendous equalizer, and Northern Illinois University excels at advancing students into good careers. College degrees are valuable and in demand, and those with college degrees have been shown to generally earn more and have lower unemployment.
NIU has a long history of providing educational opportunities to those who have served our country.
Through the G.I. Bill, passed by Congress 70 years ago as the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act, about 2.3 million veterans attended colleges and universities such as NIU, greatly increasing the percentage of adults with bachelor’s degrees and ushering in a wave of economic prosperity. At Illinois’ public colleges and universities, the commitment has been strengthened by the Illinois Veteran Grant and Illinois National Guard Grant programs, which have been honored in recent years by public universities through tuition and fee waivers. At NIU, that commitment totaled about $3 million per year.
We owe it to our veterans to continue to invest in their success as students and after they graduate to careers in their chosen fields. Veterans are often in need of support in making the transition from military to student/civilian life. NIU again delivers.
NIU’s Military Student Services collaborates with partners across campus to assist military students with counseling and accessibility resources, admissions processing, academic advising and orientation programs. The university has been recognized for its support services as a 2014 Military Friendly School by MilitaryFriendly.com and has garnered similar recognition in 2013 by G.I. Jobs (Military Friendly School) and Military Times (Best for Vets). NIU’s College of Business MBA program is ranked 54th nationally for veterans on the 2014 Military Times list.
While Veterans Day is recognized Nov. 11, we need to go beyond the holiday to ensure veterans have access to a high-quality NIU education and provide the support services they need to be successful as students and in life. This is the best way we can say thank you as a university.