UAFS again receives ‘Military Friendly’ designation

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 759 views 

With Wednesday’s (March 15) news that the U.S. Air Force (USAF) will place its foreign pilot training center at Ebbing Air National Guard Base in Fort Smith, the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith (UAFS) receiving word it was once again awarded designation as a Military Friendly School for the 2023-24 academic year took on new meaning.

“I am thrilled to receive the military friendly ranking at the University of Arkansas at Fort smith. This ranking shows the commitment of our entire university to serving active military members and their families as well as Veterans in our community. We are dedicated to the successes of all students, but we are especially committed to providing additional support and assistance for individuals who have sacrificed for the freedoms and democracy we hold dear as citizens of the United States of America,” said Dr. Terisa Riley, UAFS chancellor. “When I showed our military and military spouse friendly designations to the representatives from Singapore, they were incredibly impressed and appreciated the fact that we would be equally dedicated to ensuring the successes of our foreign allies training in Fort Smith.”

The university earned Silver Status designation this year, moving up in the ranks from last year’s Bronze rating.

“Receiving the Military Friendly School Silver Status reflects the university’s commitment to providing the best educational experience and service to student veterans and their dependents,” said Heather Chance, UAFS advisor and VA certifying official. “This annual process provides the perfect opportunity for the university to evaluate programs, services, and processes that impact student veterans to determine what is being done well and where improvements can be made.”

UAFS has about 169 students using military benefits this semester, Chance said.

“We have a full time VA School Certifying Official who administers all military education benefits and connects students to available resources when needed. We have a relationship with the Veterans Upward Bound program,” she said.

UAFS Chancellor Dr. Terisa Riley

According to Military Friendly, the designation indicates that a university “strives toward and succeeds in the areas that matter most in helping veterans make the transition from the military to school and, ultimately, satisfying careers in the civilian world,” a UAFS news release said.

More than 1,800 schools participated in last year’s survey. Final ratings are determined by an institution’s ability to meet thresholds for student veteran retention and graduation rates, job placement, repayment, persistence, and financial aid.

“Being designated as Military Friendly and Military Spouse Friendly is meaningful. It signals to military persons and the public that we have a web of services for military personnel and families, a commitment to serving the particular needs of that group, and a desire to continue and enhance our services,” said Lee Krehbiel, vice chancellor of student affairs. “The process of application, itself a quite lengthy process, is an opportunity for us to examine several dozen areas and see where we are currently and where we might strive to improve.”

Krehbiel said the general military friendliness of Arkansas, as reflected in part by state-level policies and legislation, is helpful in that process.

“We are also proud of our Veteran’s Resource Center, our Student Veterans organization, our ROTC program, and many other connections,” he said.

UAFS also holds designation as a Military Spouse Friendly School, having instituted policies to address the concerns and needs of military spouses and their families. At UAFS, veterans and their dependents are offered priority registration and student veterans are offered a payment grace period if benefits are paid after the start of the semester. Additionally, the Veterans Resource Center serves as a hub for student veterans to study and connect with other student veterans and dependents.

Krehbiel said there are direct benefits for those who move to Fort Smith and have a U.S. military connection, including that most have immediate in-state residency status.

“For those from our partner countries, it will tell them that they are welcome, that we want to engage them in our credit or non-credit educational programs, and that we are interested in listening to their hopes and dreams,” he said. “Our Adult Degree Completion Programs, our Center for Business and Professional Development, and many of our certificate programs may be of great interest to our new neighbors.”

He said the university can work with persons on evaluating international transcripts, which could be of more value with a foreign pilot training center in the area.

“UAFS has already participated in meetings with military and other personnel involved in the area’s efforts to attract the new mission. Now that it is official, UAFS will reach out on a broader scale through our programmatic leaders, marketing personnel, admissions staff, and academic leadership to identify specific avenues to pursue. One of our goals is to have as many of the new personnel at Ebbing, and their families, come to the UAFS campus, perhaps for a tour and as invited guests at one of our basketball, volleyball or baseball games, once they are in town and settled in,” Krehbiel said.

The foreign pilot training center at Ebbing, part of the U.S. Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program, will provide a consolidated location to train foreign pilots from nations that buy U.S.-made military planes. The earliest planes and pilots from foreign nations could arrive at Ebbing would be in late 2024, which is part of the military’s fiscal year 2025 that begins in September 2024, said Lt. Col. Drew “Gus” Nash.