UNC Pembroke has earned several designations for its service to military students. The university has been named one of the top military-friendly schools by several publications, including U.S. News & World Report, Military Advanced Education & Transition, Military Times and G.I. Jobs. But as UNCP's director of military outreach, Michael Clawson, says, "Those don't mean anything unless the veterans are saying we're military-friendly."
As a 28-year veteran of the U.S. Army, Clawson knows what military service members have experienced and what they need to succeed.
Clawson, a retired U.S. Army colonel, began leading the military outreach program in early 2013. His goal is to not only support service members and their families, but to also grow the military outreach program at UNCP. Currently the department consists of Clawson; Jasmine Coleman, the program coordinator; and Patricia St. Armour, a part-time campus administrative coordinator based at Fort Bragg, located approximately 40 miles north of the UNCP campus.
Clawson says the goal, both on campus and at Fort Bragg, is to try to facilitate courses not just for active duty military or veterans, but for family members, too.
"Having Pat at Fort Bragg helps facilitate outreach to active duty and their family members at Fort Bragg, and the area of Fort Bragg. That also is outreach to the civilians that can access Fort Bragg as well."
Support From Application to Graduation
The UNCP military outreach team supports military students throughout their time at the university.
"On our campus, we really are all things military. We collaborate with admissions, the registrar, accessibility, student accounts -- you name it," Clawson explains. "It encompasses everything a student has to do."
Coleman spends much of her time working directly with students, either helping them get through the application process or helping them with tuition assistance.
"When the students approach us, they are either active duty military or military dependent," Coleman says. "Most are using some type of GI Bill funding or tuition assistance. So that's why they contact us -- to make sure they have everything established that's necessary to draw those funds to pay for their education."
Clawson adds, "We can encourage them, we can be their advocate, and that's what we always promote with them."
The military outreach team also supports military students in other ways: They set up awareness events and celebrations as well as a separate military graduation ceremony prior to actual commencement.
"We bring in the chancellor to award honor cords so we can recognize those veterans and active duty students. We want them to know that they're recognized. Other people can see it clearly that they are veterans," Clawson says.
But he has even bigger hopes for the program. He's working to get funding for a veterans support center on campus.
"My end goal is to have a center where it's one-stop shop for a veteran walking in the door," Clawson says. "Jasmine and I would be in that center, along with the veterans affairs certifying official, because that would take care of 90 percent of veteran issues when they walk in the door. But it would also be a space for studying, a space for the Student Veterans of America chapter to meet. It would be a space for a lounge, because most of those military students are commuters."
Online for Military
Of course, not all Fort Bragg students have to commute. There are online degree program options that are perfect for active duty personnel.
UNCP recently launched several online MBA programs featuring coursework that is 100 percent online and can be completed from wherever a military student is deployed.
Active duty military personnel also have the benefit of in-state tuition when stationed in North Carolina, even if they wouldn't otherwise meet the residency requirements.
"Any active duty in any service -- even if they were in Camp Lejeune, for example, or Seymour Johnson -- if they're stationed in North Carolina, they will get in-state tuition," Clawson explains. "And if any of their dependents were to enroll, they would qualify for in-state tuition. Even if they moved out of state, and they stayed continually enrolled until they finished, they would still get in-state tuition."
Education Benefits for Military Dependents
With the Post-9/11 GI Bill, military service members can transfer their educational benefits to family members. Clawson says that about 60 percent of the approximately 1,000 military-affiliated students at UNCP are military dependents rather than active duty or veterans.
"Given the Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits, where an active duty or a veteran person can give their eligibility to the family members, I think that's what created the growth in the huge military affiliation numbers in dependents coming back to school," says Clawson.
"Before that bill, they didn't have an option. Either he was going to come to school or he wasn't. Now that option is available for a wife or a husband or a family member. I think those numbers will remain high."