Shawn Clark spent six years in the Navy, entering into the service with the overall goal of using his time served as a vessel to help him earn a college diploma. After he left the Navy, he headed straight to College of Coastal Georgia. The school was an optimal choice thanks to its location near Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in Camden County, low tuition costs and flexible scheduling options.
Since entering college in 2011, Clark, an American studies major, has seen a vast shift on the college’s Brunswick and Kingsland campuses. Students, faculty and administrators are paying ever more attention to one particular group of students: veterans.
“The support veterans are now receiving at the college, it’s a huge boost to encouraging us to not only go to school here, but to stay here for the duration of our education,” Clark said. “The biggest difference is that now, there is an awareness — an acknowledgement that as veterans, we do have certain questions and needs that the general public may not have. The difference is noticeable, and it is extremely appreciated.”
The college’s encouragement of veterans has not gone unnoticed by those off campus either. It was announced earlier this week that Military Times has ranked the institution as one of the best colleges for veterans in the country.
College of Coastal Georgia has been listed as the 62nd best college in the nation in the sixth annual Military Times “Best for Vets: Colleges 2016” survey. Overall, 125 four-year institutions earned rankings.
In Georgia, College of Coastal Georgia ranked third best among four-year schools, behind Armstrong State University in Savannah, which ranked seventh nationwide, and the University of Georgia in Athens, which ranked 54th.
The rankings factor in the results of Military Times’ annual survey, which has been known to be the most comprehensive school-by-school assessment of veteran and military student services and rates of academic achievement. Published by Sightline Media Group, Military Times, in both its news weekly and digital editions, reports on issues key to all areas of the armed services, including information about pay, benefits, recreational resources and retirement.
The annual Best for Vets survey is an editorially independent news project that evaluates a variety of factors to help make college and university campuses a proper fit for service members, veterans and their families, said John Cornell, marketing and public relations director for the college.
More than 600 colleges took part in this year’s detailed survey. The annual survey asks colleges and universities to document a wide array of services, special rules, accommodations and financial incentives offered to students with military ties, as well as to describe aspects of veteran culture on a campus.
Military Times also factors in data from the Veterans Affairs and Defense Departments, as well as three Education Department sources: the IPEDS Data Center, College Scorecard data and the Cohort Default Rate Database, Cornell said.
Ranking within the top colleges best for veterans and armed services students nationwide is a recognition college president Greg Aloia said he and the college’s staff have worked tirelessly to achieve.
“It’s a great honor to be ranked nationally among the best colleges for our veterans,” Aloia said. “At the college, we have a commitment to making sure our veterans have every possible resource to make their experience as seamless and unburdened as possible. It is the least we can do for those who were willing to put their lives on the line to protect our freedoms.”
A number of factors have likely gone into play to help the college earn its prestigious Military Times’ ranking, said Kimberly Burgess, Veterans Admissions Counselor at the college.
The Camden County campus’ location near Kings Bay is a benefit to attracting veterans and current service members. The college also provides two veteran admission counselors who are able to help veterans navigate what can be a winding stack of paperwork and financial aid accommodations.
That one-on-one guidance provides an untold level of comfort and ease to veterans, as well as current service members and their families, Burgess said.
“We work hard to, in essence, work hard for our students who are veterans and who are serving,” Burgess said. “Having this recognition is a huge honor. There is a lot of behind-the-scenes work that goes on to help make this look easy. And we want attending college to be easy for our armed service men and women. We are here to connect the dots so they don’t have to. We are here to be their college support system, because they are here to protect, serve and support our nation.”