NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The state Senate Education Committee heard testimony Wednesday, Jan. 17, on the innovative and leading efforts by Middle Tennessee State University to retain and support the almost 1,000 veterans and military family members enrolled at the Murfreesboro campus.
Mike Krause, executive director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, and Keith Huber, a retired Army lieutenant general who helped found MTSU’s Charlie and Hazel Daniels Veterans and Military Family Center, detailed to senators the university’s commitment to veterans during a joint appearance before the Senate panel.
Krause, himself an Army veteran, told senators that one of THEC’s jobs was to “make sure our institutions … are, bottom line, doing the right thing for serving student veterans.”
To that point, Krause told senators that the number of veterans using the GI Bill at Tennessee universities has increased by 116 percent over the last 10 years, from about 5,000 in Spring 2007 to 10,852 in Spring 2017.
“We view the coming years as a great opportunity (for Tennessee higher education) to become a leader in serving student veterans,” Krause said.
He applauded the various public and private colleges and universities, including MTSU, who have qualified for designation in the Tennessee Veterans Transition Support Program, which rewards institutions that develop and maintain a certain level of services for student veterans.
Krause also invited Huber, MTSU’s senior adviser for veterans and leadership initiatives, to speak to the committee to show an example of how “there are institutions in this state that have gone far beyond the minimum.”
MTSU, he said, was one such institution. Krause said Huber “has been leading what has become a nationally recognized effort to make sure student veterans coming on campus are coached, mentored and get out the door with a diploma.”
Further, he said, MTSU has added career placement options for veterans that allow many students to “go out the door with a degree and go directly into a job.”
Huber thanked MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee for providing the resources needed for the university to take a leadership role in serving student veterans.
The general credited McPhee for green-lighting his recommendation for creating the largest dedicated center for veterans and military families at a Tennessee university, which attracted the support of country music legend Charlie Daniels and his wife, Hazel, for whom the center is named.
“If President McPhee had not provided the space, or funding, or support, it would not have happened,” Huber said.
The challenge, the retired general told the senators, is creating an environment where a campus is not defined as veteran-friendly by merely having space for recreational activities. At MTSU, he said, the veterans center is devoted to services that help veterans succeed on campus.
Veterans, Huber said, are on campus “for their next mission, their next task. Education is the key to a better life and they want to gain that education and continue to provide for their family. They want to be a leader in their community and in the business world, as they were in uniform.”
That’s why MTSU’s veterans center, led by its director, Hilary Miller, also focuses on establishing relationships with area employers and deploying resources to align veterans to job openings, Huber added.
State Sen. Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, chair of the Senate Education Committee and a retired U.S. Marine lieutenant colonel, said she was delighted that Huber testified before the body. “We are honored that you are serving MTSU and Tennessee veterans while you are down there,” she said.
State Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, allowed by Gresham to sit in on Huber’s testimony, thanked Huber for his intervention in the case of a veteran he championed who was seeking help in enrolling as an MTSU student.
“I know when Dr. McPhee approached him, (Huber) said he wasn’t going to be a token general,” Ketron said. “If he was going to do it, he was going to do it right.”
— Andrew Oppmann (email@example.com)