By Clara Turnage
University of Mississippi
For the second year in a row, the University of Mississippi has been named a gold-ranked 2023-24 military friendly institution by the Military Friendly Advisory Council.
Military Friendly ranks schools, employers, spouse employers and others based on how well that institution takes care of veterans and active military members. The university has consistently increased its Military Friendly ranking in the last four years from bronze and silver in 2020-21 and 2021-22 to gold in 2022-23 and 2023-24.
“Our commitment to comprehensively serving our veterans, military and dependents runs deep throughout our institution, and it is a great honor to receive the Military Friendly gold rating,” Chancellor Glenn Boyce said. “We offer dedicated programs, resources and staff so that our student veterans know that they belong to a community that is deeply invested in their success and is focused on growing their presence on campus.
“It is inspiring how our university supports these servant leaders who have chosen to serve something larger than themselves.”
The designation highlights the university’s recent efforts to increase military support on campus, said Andrew Newby, assistant director veteran and military services.
“This is the pinnacle of military-friendly surveys for schools,” Newby said. “This is where prospective students look if they’re looking for schools. That’s huge.”
The university serves more than 1,700 military-connected students, who constitute more than 8% of the student body, said Richard Forgette, associate provost charged with student success.
“Our veterans have unique challenges when they return to school, and UM has a committed, talented team of student success professionals to serve them,” Forgette said. “It’s important to our public mission that military-connected students feel supported on campus.”
Since the opening of George Street House in 2021, the Office of Veteran and Military Services has become a “one-stop shop” for veterans on campus, Newby said. Aside from being able to file to access GI Bill benefits, the office offers counseling, study space, a kitchen, guidance for applying to scholarships and military transfer credits.
“It’s important that we highlight that we’re shifting from military-friendly to military-ready,” Newby said. “We’re trying to move beyond just having a space for veterans; we want to welcome them in and be able to take care of the myriad of things veterans need from us.”
The recent installation of a Veteran Treatment Team allows student veterans to seek health care on campus instead of having to drive hours to the nearest VA Clinic, he said. This saves military-connected students hours of time, money on gas and makes health care more accessible.
Ole Miss is also the only school in the country to fund its Office of Veteran and Military Services through selling vanity license plates, which brings in more than $60,000 a year.
In 2021, the university was assigned a veteran service officer, Earl Jones, from Mississippi Veterans Affairs. Jones takes care of all veteran needs besides education.
“We can literally handle anything our veterans need help with,” Newby said. “We’re trying to set the bar and that’s evidenced by this gold award.”
Jake Trujillo, a 25-year-old freshman exercise science major and U.S. Marine Corps veteran from San Antonio, said Newby, along with Stelenna Lloyd and Will Mobley, both operations coordinators in the office, has made the campus feel welcoming and supportive.
“I probably wouldn’t have finished this semester if not for the help of Andrew, Stelenna and Will,” Trujillo said. “They’ve been very welcoming, like everyone has at the university. Any question I have or concerns I have; they were the first ones to reach out to see if I needed anything.”
The only ranking higher than gold in Military Friendly ratings is Top 10. Newby said he has no doubt that this distinction is on the horizon for Ole Miss.
“When a veteran shows up to this campus, they have different needs than a traditional college student,” he said. “We can’t just recognize that. We have to act on it. We have to be doers, not thinkers.
“We aren’t going to settle for being military-friendly. We’re going to be military-ready. That’s what’s going to make the University of Mississippi the school of choice for veterans.”