CINCINNATI — Xavier University’s military-affiliated enrollments continue to soar higher and higher as service members navigate their Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits. For some veterans, it’s the university’s veteran-centered approach that made them choose to attend the school in the first place.
Navy veteran Cymone Langenkamp is about to graduate but admitted that leaving the Navy to become a student at Xavier was a scary situation, and it raised a lot of questions.
“You don’t know what to do,” she said. “Can I do school, can I do work, can I be a parent all at the same time?"
Langenkamp found solace at the Student Veterans Center on campus and said it’s the main reason she chose Xavier University because she knew the support she would receive.
“It makes it so much easier having the vet center with other people going through the same thing. We can bounce ideas off each other and kind of understand each other,” she said.
The veterans center was made possible due to a monetary donation from GE Aviation in 2015. Since then, the school's military-affiliated population has grown by 70% – from 183 students to 310 during the 2020 school year, according to data provided by Xavier Student Veterans Center staff.
With that growth, there are more veterans who gather at the student center, which in turn helps with the transition into a civilian world that can have its challenges.
“We have a full staff – five team members representing four of the major military branches," said Nathan Ray, assistant director of the Student Veterans Center. "Being able to have that kind of ties, that commonality with students we’re serving, is critical.”
He said their team is able to help veterans navigate through benefits tied to their service and guide them through their first day of enrollment all the way to graduation.
“We have a recruiter and missions counselor who walks them through that initial process getting into school, we have a benefits counselor, a success coach and a career coach," Ray said. "So all phases of their experience here as a student are supported and focused on by a specific person here in the veteran center."
He said money is always on the mind of students, and when the Post 9/11 GI Bill caps out, their staff can educate veterans about the Yellow Ribbon Program.
“The GI Bill is capped annually at approximately 25K per academic year. Here at Xavier, we’re a private institution; tuition is a little over that,” Ray said. “If you’re qualified for that additional benefit, you can receive full tuition funding, and that’s an agreement between Xavier and the VA, where they both contribute a certain dollar amount to make your tuition 100% covered.”
The university recently received a designation due to its focus on helping veterans.
“Gold Top Ten distinction, and that puts us second across all private institutions granting PhD.s, so pretty highly ranked across the country,” Ray said.
The designation comes from Military Friendly, an organization that tracks and evaluates universities, companies, brands and others for their engagement with the military community.
It graded Xavier and other similar universities under the following categories: Veterans Academic Policies, Veterans Admissions and Orientation, University Culture and Commitment, Veterans Financial Aid and Assistance, Veterans Graduation and Career and Military Student Support and Retention.
In response to a request for graduation rates tied to this specific group of students, the center's assistant director of career and external relations, Jason Nahrgang said in an email: "100% of Xavier Veteran and military-affiliated graduates are employed, attending grad school or working in service or volunteer positions within six months of graduation."
He also said the overall student body has a rating of 98% when it comes to the same success.
For retired Air Force veteran Xavier Razo, the center provides a comfortable safe haven with people who understand his background.
“We speak the same language whether you’re in the Army, the Air Force or the Marine Corps. We know the acronyms,” he said. “We can talk to each other on that level where if one of us is falling, we can pick that fellow service member up. That’s what we’re trained to do.”
Razo is studying to become a graphic artist and knows part of the success as a student is directly tied to the knowledge among the five staff members who knew the inner workings for benefits and what else he qualified for with a service-connected injury.
“They helped me expand on it, 'Oh, you can do this, you can do this and you can get this as well,'” he said. “They can put themselves in my shoes and say okay, 'if you’re going through this you might need this, you might need this.' They didn’t skip a beat.”
For more information on the Xavier Student Veterans Center, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org.