Mississippi State University’s Center for America’s Veterans offers something most other university departments don’t: a comfortable “fit” for veterans who may not feel they fit in elsewhere.
That’s according to Brian Locke, director of the G.V. “Sonny” Montgomery Center for America’s Veterans on campus. Locke spoke to the Starkville Rotary Club on Monday to talk about the center’s work.
“Our student veteran population is older than the normal population, so they don’t really fit in in a normal classroom,” Locke said. “If they’re 32 to 35 and they’re in a classroom with someone who was in high school last month or a year ago, relating to those folks is very, very difficult (for) many of our student veterans. We see lots of issues really just trying to fit in.
“That’s where facilities like our come in because they have a place where they can feel welcome and be at home,” he added.
Located in Nusz Hall on the northern part of campus, the center is a 7,500 square foot facility that opened in 2016 and boasts a range of amenities for student veterans, including private study rooms, free copying and printing, a lounge and a multi-purpose room — all features for the largest population of student veterans or veteran family members of any university in the state, Locke said.
MSU saw record student enrollment this year with more than 22,000 students. Of those, 2,810 — nearly 13 percent of the university’s total population — are veterans or the children of veterans. Locke said the veteran population this semester has reached a record high.
“There’s no doubt that we’re already the preferred choice in Mississippi for student veterans,” Locke said. “Our numbers just tell the story very well.”
By the numbers
Locke gave a run-down of those numbers to his audience at Rotary: Of the veteran population, 2,346 are enrolled at MSU’s Starkville campus. Another 324 veteran students are enrolled online, 91 are at the Meridian campus, 33 in the vet school and 16 in an engineering program on the coast. Of the total population, about 18 percent is female.
The university also hosts a healthy number of veterans or veteran dependents who attend from out of state, Locke said, with Alabama, Tennessee, Florida and Georgia being the top states, in order. That’s likely due in part to a benefit the university provides where out-of-state tuition is waived for veteran dependents.
The Center for America’s Veterans has earned a smattering of awards and recognitions, including being ranked in the top 50 in the country by the Military Times. Locke said the awards are nice, but don’t paint a full picture of the center’s work.
“We do very well in some of these rankings,” Locke said, “but I do not believe it’s a real depiction of what we really do for our student veterans. It’s one thing to fill out a survey and for someone to grade a survey. It’s another thing for someone to come to Mississippi State and really see the time and effort that State puts into our veterans and veteran dependents. It’s great stuff, don’t get me wrong, and we’re going to continue to compete for them and do well, but there’s a lot more to it than that.”
Alex Holloway was formerly a reporter with The Dispatch.