8 Keys to Veterans’ Success Receives More than 400 College and University Commitments

Cross-posted from the White House Joining Forces Blog.

Last August, at the Disabled American Veterans National Convention, President Obama outlined key Administration priorities that ensure we are fulfilling our promises to those who have served our nation, including supporting our veterans in institutions of higher learning. In his speech, President Obama announced that 250 community colleges and universities committed to implementing the 8 Keys to Success program on their campuses.

Developed by the Administration, the Department of Education (ED), and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in conjunction with more than 100 education experts, the 8 Keys to Veterans’ Success on campus are eight concrete steps that institutions of higher education can take to help veterans and service members transition into the classroom and thrive once they are there. Over the past year, the number of commitments have nearly doubled as more than 400 colleges and universities have affirmed their commitment to take the necessary steps to assist veterans and servicemembers in transitioning to higher education, completing their college programs, obtaining career-ready skills, and achieving success.

The strategies within the 8 Keys to Veterans’ Success include:

  • Creating a culture of connectedness on campus
  • Coordinating and centralizing campus efforts for all veterans
  • Collaborating with local communities and organizations to align services and supports for veterans
  • Implementing an early alert system
  • Utilizing a uniform set of data tools to collect and track information relating to veteran students (i.e., retention and degree completion)
  • Developing systems to ensure sustainability of effective practices

These common-sense practices should be implemented on every campus across the country.

To view current commitments and check if your school has signed the 8 Keys pledge, click here. If you are an administrator and would like to join the growing list of colleges and universities focused on providing the best environment for your student veterans, please visit the 8 Keys registration site, or email 8keys@ed.gov.

As more servicemembers return to civilian life, the urgency to ensure that they have the support they need to reach their educational and career goals grows each day. We will continue to advocate for the needs of the men and women who serve us so valiantly each and every day.

Robert “Mac” McFarlin is a White House Fellow at the National Economic Council.

Back-to-School Bus Tour Visits the Grand Canyon State

Military Town Hall

The last stop of day four was at Yuma Marine Corps Air Station where Duncan joined military leaders, service members and their families to discuss the importance of supporting military-connected students and their families.

It was a beautiful and hot morning in Phoenix last Thursday at the start of day four of Secretary Arne Duncan’s back-to-school Strong Start, Bright Future, bus tour across the Southwest. The heat didn’t deter a day full of excitement and inspiration with stops in Phoenix, Scottsdale and Yuma, Ariz.

See a collection of social media posts from day four of the tour.


Student in ClassroomDuncan got an early start at the Bret Tarver Education Complex where he visited classrooms—even receiving a daily weather forecast from an early learner—and then participated in a town hall to discuss the President’s Preschool for All proposals and the need for high-quality education.

The town hall focused on the proven benefits of high-quality early education. For every $1 invested in high-quality preschool, taxpayers save an average of $7 in future costs due to reductions in remedial education costs, increased labor productivity, and a reduction in crime. “Education is the best crime prevention tool,” Aaron Carreon-Ainsa, Phoenix’s city prosecutor, said during the panel discussion.


The back-to-school bus kept on rolling and made a stop in Scottsdale for a meeting with tribal leaders to talk about the federal role in strengthening tribal education. Over the last four years, the Obama Administration has taken unprecedented steps to increase collaboration with tribal government and communities regarding Native students.

The Secretary addressed the negative impact sequestration is having on Native American communities. “They’re feeling it out here. DC let them down,” Duncan tweeted following the event.


The day continued in Yuma, Ariz., with a visit to the Yuma Community Food Bank where Duncan joined more than 400 volunteers who had gathered to fill backpacks with food to be delivered to disadvantaged students for the weekend. Yuma is home to the highest unemployment rate in the nation and Yuma County has the highest food insecurity rate in the state. It was an important reminder that students who show up to school hungry have a difficult time learning.

Following the Food Bank visit, Duncan and team stopped at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma for a town hall and discussion on the importance of supporting military-connected students and their families.

Military-connected students face unique challenges such as parents who deploy often and multiple moves through during their K-12 years. Abagail, a Yuma High School senior who has two parents connected to the military, told the audience that she has moved 11 times during her school years.

Listen to Secretary Duncan wrap up day four of the back-to-school tour below.

Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

Cameron Brenchley is director of digital strategy and blogged and tweeted his way from the bus during ED’s annual back-to-school bus tour.

8 Keys to Success: Supporting Veterans, Military and Military Families on Campus

Cross-posted from White House Blog

On Saturday, at the Disabled American Veterans National Convention, President Obama outlined five Administration priorities that ensure we are fulfilling our promises to those who have served our nation, including supporting our veterans in institutions of higher learning. In his speech, President Obama announced that 250 community colleges and universities have committed to implementing the 8 Keys to Success on their campuses. Developed by the Administration, the Department of Education (ED), and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in conjunction with more than 100 education experts, the 8 Keys to Success on campus are eight concrete steps that institutions of higher education can take to help veterans and service members transition into the classroom and thrive once they are there.

The 8 Keys to Success on campus are:

  1. Create a culture of trust and connectedness across the campus community to promote well-being and success for veterans.

  2. Ensure consistent and sustained support from campus leadership.

  3. Implement an early alert system to ensure all veterans receive academic, career, and financial advice before challenges become overwhelming.

  4. Coordinate and centralize campus efforts for all veterans, together with the creation of a designated space (even if limited in size).

  5. Collaborate with local communities and organizations, including government agencies, to align and coordinate various services for veterans.

  6. Utilize a uniform set of data tools to collect and track information on veterans, including demographics, retention and degree completion.

  7. Provide comprehensive professional development for faculty and staff on issues and challenges unique to veterans.

  8. Develop systems that ensure sustainability of effective practices for veterans.

With more and more service members returning home in the next year, it has never been more important for schools to have a roadmap in place to make sure veterans are getting the best possible educational experience. By adopting the 8 Keys to Success, schools are taking a positive step in that direction.

VSOC, VITAL, and 8 Keys to Success Sites (Image from US Department of Education)

VSOC, VITAL, and 8 Keys to Success Sites (Image from US Department of Education)

The 250 schools that have committed to the 8 Keys to Success are helping veterans and military families afford and complete their college degrees, certificates, industry-recognized credentials and licenses, and—importantly—preparing them for jobs in high-growth sectors of the economy. More schools are expected to adopt the 8 Keys to Success on campus in the coming months.

The 8 Keys to Success are only part of the Administration’s efforts to support and protect service members in the classroom. The Keys build on the Administration’s Principles of Excellence, which President Obama established by Executive Order in April 2012. The Principles of Excellence provide protections for our military and veterans in institutions of higher education to prevent against dishonest recruiting and predatory practices. To further veterans’ success in higher education, the VA is also expanding its VetSuccess on Campus and Veterans Integration to Academic Leadership programs, which connect veterans to VA resources. Together, all of these measures will help provide our veterans and military families with the high-quality, affordable education they deserve.

We all owe a great debt to those who have served this country. Giving schools tools they can use to truly welcome and support our returning service members is one way we can help repay that debt by making sure we are providing our veterans and military families with an education worthy of their exceptional talents and experience.

Student Voices of Military-Connected Children Inspire Guidance from Secretary Duncan

Students talk with Secretary Duncan at the Department of Education

Students from MD, VA, and DC explain the challenges of having parents in the military to Secretary Duncan and Patty Shinseki.

The men and women serving in our Armed Forces make incredible sacrifices in service to our country. And so do their family members. Through multiple deployments and frequent moves, the spouses and children of service members live in constant transition.

In April—the Month of the Military Child–Secretary Duncan released a letter to school superintendents providing guidance on meeting the unique challenges faced by military-connected students.

During their K-12 education, these children move from six to nine times, and Duncan’s letter calls for school districts across the country to plan smooth transitions for them.

The letter provides additional guidance for school districts and schools (read the letter here), but what the letter fails to mention is what inspired the letter in the first place.

Earlier in April, Secretary Duncan, along with Mrs. Patty Shinseki, and Department of Defense Education Activity Director Marilee Fitzgerald, conducted a Student Voices roundtable with 21 children of service members who attend high schools in the DC area.

The discussion was part of Secretary Duncan’s Student Voices Series, which regularly engages students and increases connections between ED policies and student needs.  The students’ descriptions of their educational experiences were thoughtful and poignant, often revealing heartfelt and persuasive arguments for why we need to do more to assist school personnel in understanding the needs of 1.2 million military-connected children.

The students spoke candidly about their challenges. Many talked about the hardships one experiences when moving to new schools, including transferring course credits.  For several students, when their credits did not transfer, they could not progress through high school with their peers, and in several instances, they were not identified as “graduating seniors” at their new schools, despite the fact that they would have been “seniors” at their prior schools.

One student talked about her challenge of communicating with a deployed parent during school hours because of a “no cell phone” policy, and another explained her frustration that her high school wouldn’t be live streaming graduation so that her deployed father could watch the ceremony.

The conversation during this meeting helped Secretary Duncan understand how children are affected by policy, and contributed to the letter’s urging  schools to take immediate steps to provide assistance, including adopting and/or implementing the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children.

The Secretary’s Student Voices sessions are designed for the Secretary and his senior staff to listen and learn from young Americans. But they also have an impact on policy, and in this case produced almost immediate action.  That’s one powerful example of why listening to student voices matters, and the Secretary looks forward to more such conversations,

Samuel Ryan is the co-lead for outreach to students in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach

Different Venues; Similar Questions

On May 8, 2012, I traveled to New England and had an opportunity to meet with and talk and listen to with three distinct groups: students, faculty and staff at Dover High School (Dover, NH); senior administrators, including President Mark Huddleston, at the University of New Hampshire (Durham, NH); and military spouses as well as the Base Commander Bryant Fuller and his spouse at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard (Kittery, ME). 

Group Meeting

From left to right Julie Weinstein, Candace Fuller, Dr. Gross, and standing is Pat Riordan, the Base Support Officer. Photo courtesy of U.S. Navy -Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.

I anticipated these audiences would raise quite different questions and concerns in our gatherings, given differing nature of the institutions from which they hailed.  The participants ranged from high school students of whom approximately 50% head to college and for whom extensive travel outside their state was uncommon to military spouses who moved every 18 months within the US and abroad, often with school-aged children.  The audiences included young people navigating how to graduate from high school (let alone college) to experienced college administrators seeking to navigate sizable state-wide budget cuts while helping students complete their undergraduate education in a timely fashion. 

Despite these obvious differences, certain key recurring questions and concerns came through all the conversations, most particularly these two:  (1) How can college be made more affordable for all students? and (2) What can the federal government do to improve and influence positively the educational experiences of and outcomes for vulnerable students in the pre-K – 16 pipeline?.

Not easy questions and ones for which there are no easy answers.  That said,
I was deeply appreciative of the thoughtful and heartfelt observations raised by the almost 750 people with whom I met.  I was struck by the many concrete examples the audiences presented, many of which provided a new lens through which to see the issues of concern.   Those who spoke were open, forthright and clear.  They were concerned.  They were not shy.  But, most of all, they were not cynical.  Instead, they wanted and needed information; they wanted and needed answers; they wanted and needed a government that could help.
As I listened and answered, I was also struck by the disconnect between what we are doing here in Washington to address these very questions and the amount of information actually gets filtered back and heard outside the proverbial Beltway.  There are initiatives that the federal government has completed (like new federal loan repayment options) and others that are proposed (like Race to the Top and First in the World for higher education) on the very questions raised by these audiences.  We do have new tools that can assist students in selecting quality, affordable education, and we do have some efforts in place to solve problems military- children experience as they transition from one school to another.  

But, the decibel level is so high, the information so vast and the complexity so great that it is hard for the government to communicate effectively to, and reach and be heard by, the needed audiences including students and their parents, college personnel and military families.

I was and remain heartened by the voices of the many audience members at these three events – individuals who wanted to improve their lives and those of children and young adults.  I welcomed the chance to share what we are doing here in DC.  And, what I hope is that this conversation and many more like them will open the door to not only more dialogue but to thoughtful and meaningful ways to improve our educational system – for the children of today and tomorrow.

Karen Gross is a senior policy advisor at the U.S. Department of Education

Voices that Matter

I recently attended a convening sponsored by the Military Child Education Coalition (MCEC), Joining Forces (which is coming up to its first anniversary) and the US Department of Education.  The event was designed to identify a series of immediately implementable solutions to some of the challenges vexing military-connected children.

These young people confront a plethora of issues when one or both of their parents are in the armed services, including frequent moves causing academic and psycho-social disruption, parental absence for extended periods, and loss of or injury to a parent. We know there are more than a million school-aged children of current service members and many more whose parents served post 9-11, making a focus on military-connected children a responsibility we owe to our military families who have served our nation with honor.  It is an issue on which the US Department of Education has been focused, including encouraging the Interstate Compact that facilitates student transition from one school to another across state boarders.

The convening was led by Patty Shinseki, a member of the MCEC Science Advisory Board and wife Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Eric Shinseki, and Dr. Mary Keller, President of MCEC, both of whom ensured that the proceedings stayed on task and on target.  Also in attendance were a wide variety of committed, visionary senior stakeholders, all engaged in finding quality solutions.  In short, there was real talent in the room being leveraged to help military-connected children.

What was most powerful to me throughout the day, though, were voices of those needing our help — the children of military families.

The program commenced with two high school aged military-connected children on stage reading a script that revealed the array of struggles experienced by children of military families.  They described the common challenges military-connected children face when the family moves and parents deploy.  Then, there was a video, with military-connected children sharing their stories.   There were drawings done by children of military families in the meeting rooms where we worked. There were also copies of ON THE MOVE, the official magazine of MCEC, in the program packets, containing photos of military-connected children and, among other articles, a description of the MCEC student art displayed at the Department of Education in 2011.

But, the real way in which military-connected children’s voices were heard was in the suggestions that emanated from each adult group grappling with solutions.  As we strategized, every group’s final suggestions addressed the critical need to listen to the children of military families — to understand what they are experiencing and what suggestions they might have to address their situations.  For example, there was strong group support for use of social media and new apps to link military-connected children who had moved to the teachers and students they had known in their prior school.  Who better to design a prototype for such an app than military-connected children, including perhaps through a contest, including one with a prize attached?

Stated simply, the day was energized by a willingness to listen to the voices of those experiencing the effects of having a military parent – the voices of military-connected children.

There is a broader lesson here, too.  We are often tempted to come up with well-meaning solutions to the many problems we see in our world.  To be sure, these solutions are often informed by deep years of experience, academic literature and empirical assessment.   But, it is well worth pausing to remember, as the Dean of Students at the college I led kept reminding me, that the best source for information and solutions can often be found by listening to those experiencing the problems we seek to remediate.  We just need to create listening opportunities and then listen well and carefully. And, when we do, our solutions will stand a vastly better chance of demonstrating measurable positive outcomes.

Karen Gross is a Senior Policy Advisor at the Department of Education

National Guard Soldier, Educator Earns Prestigious Teaching Certification at White House

Cross-posted from ng.mil.

COLUMBIA, S.C. – Becoming a nationally recognized educator is a lofty accomplishment and for one South Carolina Army National Guard member, that achievement became a reality as she was one of about 100 teachers from across the country honored in a White House ceremony Dec. 7 in Washington.

Lt. Col. Evet Jefferson, who in uniform works in the mobilization section of Joint Forces Headquarters here, serves her community as a special education high school teacher.

Army National Guard Lt. Col. Evet Jefferson, of the South Carolina National Guard, poses with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan at the White House in Washington, D.C., Dec. 7, 2011, as part of a ceremony recognizing teachers who recently achieved National Board Certification. Jefferson is a high school teacher in Columbia, S.C., and serves in the mobilization section at the Joint Forces Headquarters for her military drill weekends, also in Columbia. (Courtesy photo)

As the only representative selected from the state of South Carolina, among the newest class of 6,200 national board-certified teachers nationwide, she made the trip last week to be honored in the nation’s capital.

She first, however, had to be convinced she was really supposed to go.

“I actually thought it was a joke,” she said, referring to recent emails she received inviting her to the White House. “I just found out about becoming nationally board certified on Nov. 20, so I thought it was just an invitation to some meeting.

“But when I received the phone call inviting me, that I was one out of 100 across the nation going,” Jefferson said, “and the only teacher from South Carolina, it was a magnificent feeling. It was great to be recognized.”

Prior to working in education, Jefferson spent eight years working as a career coach at Vocational Rehabilitation before using the Troops to Teachers program to change her civilian career.

Troops to Teachers is a U.S. Department of Education and Department of Defense program that helps eligible military personnel begin a new career as teachers in public schools where their skills, knowledge and experience are most needed.

“I wanted to change careers and Troops to Teachers allowed me to do just that,” Jefferson said.
“It’s an awesome way to go.”

Since her career move, Jefferson has been a teacher for nearly 10 years, the last eight at her current school.

She said she loves the classroom and watching her kids learn something new.

“My kids are great,” she said. “The most challenging thing for me is for them to have as much faith in themselves as I have in them. I think they can do more than they think they can.”

Her school principal, Nathan White, expressed his pride in Jefferson earning the “gold standard” of teaching excellence.

“We are all very proud of her achievement,” White said. “She is really a great teacher and she works with our most challenging students [here]. They feel comfortable around her and she truly cares about them. She’s fair and she’s firm.”

At least once a week, Jefferson wears her uniform to school and White mentioned that her military experience helps her in the classroom.

“Being in the military has served her well in teaching because she’s extremely organized and the kids appreciate that organization,” White said. “She’s tidy, very neat and you always know where things are when you go to her classroom.”

As for the trip to Washington, Jefferson says it was a lot of fun as well as informational.

“The best part about it was when I got to sit with other [national board-certified] teachers with the same credentials as me, who really care about their students, and come up with some great ideas to use,” said Jefferson. “I enjoyed that thoroughly.”

Though she did not get to meet President Barack Obama, who was traveling at the time, she did get to meet Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

“He was really a down-to-earth gentleman,” she said. “He was really interested in what we had to say and he wanted to get a feel for where we are and what we wanted to see come down the pipeline, so to speak.”

Now having earned this highly esteemed honor in public education, Jefferson isn’t contemplating any other career moves.

“Teaching is pretty much in my blood,” Jefferson said. “Whether it’s in uniform or out, it’s what I like to do.

“When my students’ eyes open and they figure something out, and then they teach it to another student, that’s the most amazing feeling for me. That’s what keeps me in the game.”

Rural Recruits: College and Careers Available

Even in a remote rural community like Altus, Okla., there are clear connections between education and the economy.

Pilot Javier Orama

Captain Javier Orama

During a recent visit to the Air Education and Training Command at Altus Air Force Base, I was reminded of a question I hear occasionally: “Why should rural students go to college when there aren’t many jobs in their communities?” I often wonder how different these communities would be if more youth and adults pursued college and other postsecondary career training opportunities.

Nationally, rural students are less likely to go to college than their peers from urban and suburban areas. At the same time, many rural communities need skilled workers more than ever to fill existing jobs, to attract new employers, and to cultivate entrepreneurship as a means for reinventing their local economies.

Even rural youth considering joining the military will need to continue their education beyond high school.

Altus AFB prepares military personnel for a variety of careers. The Air Education and Training Command provides classroom instruction complemented by computer-based training, and individual tutoring for Airmen in a variety of fields. The base even developed a “grow-your-own” mechanics program.

After climbing inside the enormous C-17 Globemaster III cargo aircraft during my visit, Captain Javier Orama emphasized the demand for math and technology skills in today’s Air Force.

“The C-17 is a flying computer. In fact, it’s many different computers,” he said.

Captain Orama is a pilot and an instructor for pilots training to fly the C-17 on airlift and refueling missions. The C-17 is a flexible, high-tech aircraft that can refuel in-flight and continue its mission indefinitely. If you dream of flying like Captain Orama, you will need at least a bachelor’s degree. Officers are generally required to be college or university graduates. College and career-level training is also a prerequisite for loadmasters and mechanics supporting the C-17 missions.

More U.S. military personnel come from rural areas than any other parts of our nation. And like private industry, the armed services are also looking for a highly skilled workforce.

Rural young people and adults need access and encouragement to pursue postsecondary education and training programs to lift up their families and communities, and our nation needs them to aim high.

John White is Deputy Assistant Secretary for Rural Outreach

Joining Forces

“This is a challenge to every segment of American society not to simply say thank you but to mobilize, take action and make a real commitment to supporting our military families.” said First Lady Michelle Obama at the launch of a new national initiative called Joining Forces on Tuesday. The initiative provides all Americans with new ways to support and show gratitude to America’s service members and their families. Secretary Duncan, President Obama, Vice President Biden and Dr. Jill Biden joined the First Lady in announcing the new initiative.

By working with communities, non-profits, businesses, charitable organizations and faith based institutions, Joining Forces aims to ensure military families have the education, employment and healthcare support they have earned.

For more information on how you can share messages of thanks, get involved, and share your own story of military service visit joiningforces.gov. You can also watch a video from the First Lady and Dr. Biden announcing the Joining Forces initiative.

Earlier this year, Secretary Duncan noted that ED is “committed to providing children of military families the support and education they need to thrive, as well as expanding educational opportunities for military spouses and veterans.” ED has created a one-stop “shop” Military Families and Veterans web page that provides information on educational benefits and programs available through the Department of Education.

Final Community College Regional Summit Focuses on Veterans, Military Members and Families

Tomorrow, April 15, ED will hold its fourth and final Community College Regional Summit at San Diego City College in San Diego, Calif. The focus of this one-day event is on Exemplary Programs for Veterans, Military Members, and Families, and will bring together federal, labor, industry and philanthropic partners to discuss how each entity can support local community college efforts to meet the President’s goal of having the best-educated workforce and the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020.

Other topics to be discussed at the summit include solutions and promising practices in college completion, developmental education, industry-education partnerships, services to military service-members and veterans, transitioning adults to community colleges, and successful transfer programs to four year colleges and universities. The Summit will also provide a forum to identify local, state and national recommendations for increasing community college completion in order to meet the President’s 2020 goal.

Join us at 12:00 PM EDT on April 15, 2011 for a LIVE webcast of the summit (link will become active when the summit begins).