Military staff supports military students
All it took was someone being in the right place at the right time — with the right idea.
That idea came in the late 1990s when one of Mike Bibbee's graduate school instructors mentioned he was going to teach online courses for University of Phoenix. Bibbee, then a longtime member of the United States Air Force, realized this could be an ideal option for servicemembers who wanted to pursue — and actually complete — their degree.
Being a student in the military — while certainly doable — wasn't easy. Finding time to study was a challenge. Relocating every few years made it difficult to stay at one school long enough to finish a degree program, often necessitating switching schools. Sometimes, college credits earned at one school wouldn't transfer to another.
While access to education through an online format was a great start, Bibbee knew that to be a truly military-friendly option, there would have to be a way to help servicemembers successfully transition from a military role to an academic one — two very different roles. The idea began to take shape.
Bibbee took the initiative to make his idea of a truly military-friendly education a reality. He got in touch with a couple of Associate Directors of Enrollment at University of Phoenix in August 2000 to discuss ways to more actively embrace the military community. The timing was right. The University welcomed Bibbee's idea because it was already exploring ways to provide educational opportunities to men and women in uniform.
Over the next three-and-a-half years, a new division took shape that would cater to active-duty and veteran military, in terms of both outreach and the services offered to them throughout their educational career. The University already had Graduation Teams in place. These three-member teams — made up of enrollment, academic and finance advisors — are assigned to each student to support them from enrollment through to graduation.
For this new division, the advisory team concept was taken a step further by establishing Graduation Teams specially dedicated to military students. Enrollment advisors would work with servicemembers during the application process and throughout the beginning phase of entering college. Academic advisors would help them lay out their required courses and scheduling for their entire degree program, and touch base through their final class to ensure they're on pace to earn their degree. Finance advisors would guide servicemembers through understanding tuition assistance and the education benefits available through the federal Veterans Affairs Office and other sources.
The Military Division officially launched in March 2004 and Bibbee was named its Vice President — a role he still holds today. At the onset, it was decided that it would be preferable that enrollment advisors have an armed forces background. It made sense that, when prospective students indicated they have a military affiliation, they be directed to military-trained enrollment advisors who understood that culture and could help alleviate concerns that servicemembers might have about making a transition to student life.
Associate Campus Director Sandra Rodriguez knows this from experience, having served seven years in the U.S. Army. She says her time in the Army helped her when she began her career with the University's Military Division as an Associate Director of Enrollment. "I could relate to the students and I knew where they're coming from," says Rodriguez. "Understanding the lingo that comes with serving in the military made them more comfortable when talking with me."
Today, every branch of the armed forces — Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marines and Navy — is represented among the Military Division staff.
Hard work reflected in numbers, recognition
All the effort invested in growing the Military Division since 2000 has earned University of Phoenix recognition as a top military-friendly school three years in a row (2009-2011) by Military Friendly Schools, which is published by G.I. Jobs, and Military Advanced Education. Its military-friendly policies for student servicemembers also have earned University of Phoenix longtime membership in the Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges, an organization that works to ensure men and women in uniform get to complete their college degrees. But more importantly, the ones who benefit most are the military students who are able to pursue an accessible college education at a university that makes them a priority.