The University of South Carolina was ranked the best college in the country for veterans and military service members by Military Times this year. The award means USC is the most supportive when it comes to the transition from the military to college.
“To be named number one, knowing that last year we were 114, and the year before that we literally hadn’t been ranked, we were all incredibly pleasantly surprised and grateful,” Jared Evans, Executive Director of Veterans & Military Affairs, said.
The Military Times surveyed 311 universities around the United States looking at factors such as veteran involvement and tuition assistance.
"Actions speak louder than words, and it's been year after year of action, of putting more things in place," Brooks Herring, the co-director of USC Veterans Day 5k, said.
Over the last few years, the department has improved processes and policies to make sure students are getting what they need.
The Military Center of Excellence at USC offers services such as study rooms, a professional attire closet and help with job placement. Another opportunity is the Student Veterans Association (SVA), which supports student veterans academically and with course-related and job placement questions.
By being involved with these programs, students can gain certificates, network and figure out what they want to do moving forward.
Johnnie Howard IV, Vice President of the Student Veterans Association, traveled to Washington, D.C., a few weeks ago to communicate with students from other universities about how their military departments work.
"I quickly realized that some processes aren't as fast and quick as we have here. I can call within the department... and my questions will be answered in a timely fashion," Howard said.
Howard wasn't surprised that USC was ranked so high because he felt he was always supported in Columbia more than anywhere else. After looking at different colleges in his home state of Florida, USC’s Military Center for Excellence seemed the most supportive. When visiting USC, Howard IV appreciated the community aspect and huge military presence.
“I was pretty much sold when I was coming here and talking to people and hearing their experience of how things were happening,” Howard said.
Some veterans have more trouble than others making the change from service back to school. Leaving behind individuals who feel like family and being different from a traditional college student can be difficult.
“Being ten years older than my classmates, living off campus, having a home, having two kids presents a unique set of challenges,” Herring said.
Another concern is the challenge of balancing the military and schoolwork. James Mays, a fourth-year information science student, has to balance schoolwork, ROTC, and the Army.
“A good balance for me is just in-between classes, don’t schedule my classes directly on top of each other. So just on that, I always just use that time in between classes to find a good middle ground to just relax,” Mays said.
USC's military department is committed to bettering its program while continuing to provide services for student veterans.
From starting small with no Student Veterans Association or no communal space for veterans, the program has made great progress.
"While we're incredibly proud of how far we've come, we also are committed to further enhancing our commitment to the entire student population," said Evans.