Pitching why you should attend the Student Veteran of America’s National Convention to your university or college shouldn’t be difficult… but still the struggle persists. After attending the SVA National Convention for the first time since my own chapters 2015 inception, it became very clear that my concern was not for those in attendance but those that were not.
I often state that there is an inconsistency with what we value and what we believe. Many institutions say they value veterans and their contributions, holding true to their promises while others merely acknowledge their veterans when a political face is required or dollar signs become scarce. After working in higher education I have witnessed many schools lacking military recruiters, adult-focused recruiters, and general programing for our non-traditional student populations seeking online programs. Change seems inevitable as traditional high school population students decrease over the next decade or so. I do not intentionally mean to generalize but enrollment is down across the board, brand new buildings are being built with few students to put in them while upper management swells; ready to be capsized by their own institutional debt.
No cause for major alarm as veterans are resilient and will select the school that best appreciates them. So how do you get your campus on board, fundraise, and get to Natcon? Whether you’re a school with a SVA chapter or lack of, it is time to dig deep and raise your voice to advocate for your fellow veterans.
Start with the Basics…
What Is the Student Veterans Of America (SVA)?
The SVA is a 501(c)(3) coalition of student veterans groups on college campuses across the globe. These member chapters are the “boots on the ground” that help veterans reintegrate into campus life and succeed academically. For example the University of Akron’s SVA Chapter is student group by their university or college and provide a peer-to-peer network for veterans who are attending the school that are officially recognized by the university. Our chapter in line with all other national chapters coordinate campus activities, provide pre-professional networking, and generally provide a touchstone for student veterans in higher education. Fun fact: In 11 years SVA has grown from 20 chapters to over 1,503 chapters representing over 600,000+ student veterans at those colleges and universities.
(Pictured above: Jared Lyon, President & CEO of Student Veterans of America. Photo by Robb Cohen Photography & Video)
(Pictured Above: Disney World Coronado Springs Convention Center NatCon 2019 featuring SVA’s campus featuring a grand total of 138 exhibitors! Photo by Robb Cohen Photography & Video)
What Is Natcon?
SVA’s National Conference (NatCon 2019) was the largest annual gathering of student veterans, advocates, thought-leaders, stakeholders, and supporters in higher education in the world. Student veterans, higher education professionals, alumni, and advocates. A total of 2,300 in attendance invested and empowered by student veterans’ success through a total of 96 individual breakout sessions throughout the conference. Roughly, 138 SVA campus exhibitors from non-profits, universites, fortune 500 companies, and veteran specific resources were on site to inspire, educate, and connect information and opportunities.
How Much Does A Polar Bear Weigh…? Enough To Break The Ice
Start with your campus champion currently supporting your organization i.e certifier, advisor, or services director and gauge the conversation… not getting results go higher… write your deans, service directors, provost, and even your president. Again… you have to advocate and make your presence known. You are a valuable part of campus and share why going to Natcon is not only good for you but for the school.
For example: Our SVA chapters participation would allow for partnership opportunities from veteran specific non-profits, other top universities/colleges, and fortune 500 companies seeking STEM majors driving not only veteran enrollment but general enrollment through co-ops, internships, and scholarships.
Paint a picture of mutual benefits in recruitment, retention, and prestige programming… collegial networks can open doors not just for veterans but for communities at large.
(Pictured above: NatCon 2019 Student Veteran Of The Year Alexandra Sawin, President & CEO Jared Lyon, and SVA Student Veteran Of The Year finalists on stage at the conference banquet. Photo by Robb Cohen Photography & Video)
(Pictured Below: Content Author’s NatCon 2019 Washington Center Break out session discussing Internships: How it is crucial to your successful veteran transition. Photo by Robb Cohen Photography & Video)
Reasons Why YOU Should Be Attending NatCon?
- It is vital that current, previous, or future SVA chapter member(s), chapter leader(s), chapter advisor(s), should attend to learn about new programs and best practices as well as network with other veterans to leave a feeling inspired, empowered, motivated, and ready to change the world.
- Connect with employers (small, medium,& large) that are seeking talent in a wide variety of careers.
- To advance our knowledge and understanding of a wide range of topics relating to veterans in higher education to teach others upon our return.
- For further information on non-profit organizations seeking more student veterans for programs and services that we may not of known of or had access too
- To explore how to the our current programing can strengthened between the veteran and higher education communities.
A Few Facts To Share About Student Veterans at Universities/Colleges
- We are… likely to be older, married, have children, have a disability, work full or part-time, and our first generation students.
- We are… consistently achieved higher academic performance (GPA) as compared to traditional students (3.34 vs. 2.94), and;
- We complete college at rates comparable with the national average, and higher than other adult learners (53.6% vs. 39.2%).
- We are skilled, talented, and in demand from the nation’s employers.
- We are pursuing degrees in business, STEM, and health sciences.40 Veterans with a bachelor’s degree earn about $84,255 on average per year, which is about $17,000 more than their non-veteran counterparts per The U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey 5-year estimates (2011-2015).
- Our Post-9/11 GI Bill has paid $75 billion in tuition, fees, and stipends to America’s colleges and universities in support of student veterans as of May 2017.
Don’t believe me? Check out SVA and Syracuse University’s joint research also known as National Veteran Education Success Tracker (NVEST)… show your administration the infographics and challenge there paradigm about veterans.
Time to Roll up your Sleeves
Ways to Start Your Fundraising Efforts!
First it is important to let your institution know that the SVA at large does not pay for students to attend the conference. It is the individual chapters and schools to help them get to the conference.
- Collaborate with you student life center. The University/college of your attendance typically has allotted dollars to cover a portion of travel expenses. Forming a positive relationship and budget is critical when planning how many student. For example: my SVA chapter average cost per student was $2,500-$3,000. Yeah I know thats alot of moolah!
- Plan 6-8 months ahead in your fundraising efforts and decide how many students you will be sending. Make an excel worksheet with all the costs and leave some room for buffer costs.
- Make sure your SVA chapter has a organization credit card, authorized users, and no restrictions in single day expenditures.
Types of fundraising ideas:
- Restaurant percentage fundraisers or Chipotle fundraiser(s) on campus– places students go and you can solicit without being yelled at (hands off-easy to set-up)
- Partner with community entities for spaghetti dinners, pancake breakfast, and local events through local VSO’s and campus organizations
- Seek corporate, small business, or non-profit sponsorship to aid in direct costs or help host a veteran based event to raise money (5k, career fair, other event)
- Crowdfund or direct donations to your cause
This part can be a bit tricky depending on your active members… best advice is to work smarter not harder and get creative. Veterans are a resourceful bunch and find a way to make things happen. I hope this article helped you get excited for NATCON 2020 and gave you some ideas to convincing your institution to support and send you to this amazing gathering of information and opportunities.