Officials at Fayetteville State University made headlines last week by promising free tuition to all military members and families, but they don’t want that to be their only outreach to the military community.

“There has been a missing component of the national dialogue with higher education and veterans,” said Siobhan Norris, associate vice chancellor for military affairs at FSU. “Our Historically Black Colleges and Universities and minority-serving institutions, they’ve been underrepresented, underfunded and have not really been given the proper attention.

“We really feel that these will help create a national dialogue on the importance of having folks consider HBCUs for their educational endeavors.”

Fayetteville State, a 153-year-old institution whose campus sits about 10 miles from the main gate at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, already boasts a significant military population among its students.

Roughly 23 percent of students enrolled last year used GI Bill money or military tuition assistance programs to pay for classes. Researchers for the school say that’s about two times higher than the average at other HBCUs, and already establishes the school as a noteworthy destination for military-connected students.

But university officials said their new offer — providing free tuition to all military-connected applicants (including family members) beginning in the fall 2022 semester — is part of a broader initiative aimed at doing more than simply attracting would-be students to campus.

Instead, the idea is to “change the landscape on how we think about readiness in today’s ever-changing job market and how we, in higher education, can support veterans and their families in their transitions to the civilian workforce,” according to university Chancellor Darrell Allison.

The free-tuition announcement came after a six-month review of the school’s military programs and footprint conducted by the consulting firm Evocati, which also provided a deeper analysis of how minority veterans across the country fare in higher education.

Researchers found minority veterans are more likely to enroll in for-profit schools and graduate with significant college debt than their white peers. FSU officials called that trend “worrisome,” given that military education benefits are designed to limit students’ financial burdens.

In addition, of 85 HBCUs surveyed, only about half (44) had an office dedicated to helping military connected students, and less than one third (27) participated in VA’s Yellow Ribbon Program, which provides financial assistance for students whose GI Bill benefits do not fully cover their school tuition and fees.

Officials said making those types of changes at FSU (which plans to join the Yellow Ribbon Program in coming months) and other HBCUs could improve enrollment and graduation rates among minority military students.

“We’re not trying to keep any of this secret,” Norris said. “We want to share these recommendations, which are great for any university, whether they’re an HBCU or not. In the end, it’s about taking care of those military students.

“Once they get a degree and find meaningful employment, that becomes a win for everyone, not just for our university but for the city, the regional economy and even the country.”

The full FSU report on military students is available on the school’s web site.

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

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