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MWCC Implementing Obama Administration’s New 8 Keys to Veterans’ Success Initiative

The Center of Excellence for Veteran Student Success has become a vibrant hub at Mount Wachusett Community College. In April, Massachusetts Secretary of Education Matthew Malone visited the center. Pictured standing, from left, Gabriel Nutter and Kevin Lambert of the Massachusetts Department of Veterans Services; Education Secretary Matthew Malone; Center Director Kristine Larkin; staff member Lisa Bentley; and MWCC student veteran Lucia Lebreton. Kneeling, from left, MWCC student veteran Bryan Sanderson and Erik DeGiorgi, chair of the Massachusetts Student Veteran Advisory Board.

Mount Wachusett Community College is one of approximately 250 community colleges and universities across the country implementing the Obama Administration’s new “8 Keys to Success” to help boost academic opportunities and improve employment outcomes for veterans.The “8 Keys to Success” build on the administration’s work to provide veterans and military families with a high-quality, affordable education and highlight specific ways that colleges and universities can support veterans as they pursue their education and employment goals. It aims to aid veterans in their effort to afford and complete their college degrees, certificates, industry-recognized credentials and licenses in preparation for jobs in high-growth sectors of the economy.

“We’re announcing what we call ‘8 Keys to Success’ – specific steps that schools can take to truly welcome and encourage our veterans,” President Obama said while introducing the initiative on Aug. 10 during the Disabled American Veterans National Convention in Florida. “And so far, more than 250 community colleges and universities have signed on. I’m calling on schools across America to join us in this effort. Let’s help our veterans get that degree, get that credential and compete for the high-skilled jobs of tomorrow.”

On Aug. 12, the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs announced a challenge to education institutions to adopt best practices supporting educational success.

MWCC, which established its vibrant Center of Excellence for Veteran Student Success in fall 2010, is one of six Massachusetts institutions and the first community college in the Commonwealth to embrace the initiative. Other participating institutions are UMass Amherst, UMass Boston, UMass Dartmouth, UMass Lowell and Salem State University.

“We are proud and honored to continue our commitment to serving veterans and military families by embracing this new national initiative,” said MWCC President Daniel M. Asquino. “The men and women who serve our country in the military, and the families that support them, do so at a tremendous sacrifice. This initiative increases awareness and builds upon our ongoing support of these heroes within our communities as they pursue academic and career goals.”

The 8 keys include: create a culture of trust and connectedness across the campus community to promote well-being and success for veterans; ensure consistent and sustained support from campus leadership; implement an early alert system to ensure all veterans receive academic, career, and financial advice before challenges become overwhelming; coordinate and centralize campus efforts for all veterans, together with the creation of a designated space; collaborate with local communities and organizations, including government agencies, to align and coordinate various services for veterans; use a uniform set of data tools to collect and track information on veterans, including demographics, retention and degree completion; provide comprehensive professional development for faculty and staff on issues and challenges unique to veterans; and develop systems that ensure sustainability of effective practices for veterans.

A designated Yellow Ribbon School by the VA, Mount Wachusett administers veteran support services on its main campus in Gardner and satellite campuses in Leominster and Devens. The Center of Excellence for Veteran Student Success is now serving more than 300 student veterans, military personnel and dependents each year.

Established through a Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE) grant from the U.S. Department of Education, the center was among the first 15 in the county selected to serve as national models. Support services address the unique academic, financial, social and physical needs to veterans transitioning to college life.

The center has established strong relationships with other college departments as well as with local community providers to support its veterans, said center Director Kristine Larkin.

Services and support include: admissions and advising counseling; career services; transfer assistance; veteran benefits and financial aid advising; assistance for students with disabilities; referrals to on-campus and off-campus service providers; a textbook loan program; emergency, scholarship and yellow ribbon funds; an adaptive technology loan program; an orientation course geared toward veterans; study groups; a mentoring program; and peer tutoring. The new center also provides the use of computers and a quiet study area for students.