BY RONALD SCHACHTER
Nichols College seniors Heather Carriere and Anthony Ritacco will be older than almost all of their classmates when they graduate this spring, the product of—and the reward for—their years of military service.
Carriere and Ritacco are beneficiaries of the post-9/11 G.I. Bill, which—like its transformational post-World War II predecessor—guarantees college tuition to military veterans. And a new generation of students, more than 1.5 million so far, have taken advantage of the up to $30,000 in higher education funds available to them annually.
“School was 99 percent of why I enlisted,” said Ritacco, who served three years in the Marines. “If I weren’t getting a full ride, I wouldn’t have done what I did.”
“I don’t have to be concerned with paying off a student loan,” added Carriere.
Nichols has about 30 such students or their immediate family members (the G.I. Bill allows veterans to transfer their benefits), and the College has intensified its efforts to attract them to its Dudley campus. Since 2015, Nichols has annually earned recognition as a Military Friendly® School in the top 15 percent of higher education institutions as determined by veterans’ advocacy organization Victory Media.
For the past 18 years, Victory Media’s list has provided service members transparent, data-driven ratings about post-military education and career opportunities.
Nichols earned its Military Friendly® distinction with a range of services to veterans, including waiving the admission application fee, awarding college credit for military training and experience, and offering online courses. The school also participates in the national Yellow Ribbon program, through which it funds veterans’ tuition beyond the annual cap under the post-9/11 G.I. Bill.
Nichols’ administration of its veterans’ program has made a difference as well. The school’s registrar maintains an active connection with the federal Veterans Administration.
“I enrolled, presented my certification, and haven’t had to do anything since. It’s been seamless,” Ritacco said.
Carriere, meanwhile, points to how the staff of the College’s finance office responded to the delay in her $1,900 monthly housing allowance from the V.A.
“Sometimes government programs go a little bit slowly,” she said. “Nichols made all the phone calls, and it only took another week or so.”
“There were so many things that drew me to Nichols,” continued Carriere, who spent 15 years in the Air Force. “There are so many resources—the Academic Resource Center, the individual attention from professors, and the other students in my classes.
“I was nervous at first,” she said. “Most of the students here are fresh out of high school, and I was concerned about being the ‘old lady’ on campus. But whenever I engaged with my classmates, they treated me like any other student, and I fell right in with them. It’s a tight-knit community here, one in which everyone helps out. It feels familiar.”
What also felt familiar was the focus of Nichols on business and leadership, which dovetailed with the organizational and leadership training of the armed services, Carriere pointed out.
Nichols graduate student, alumnus, and Marine Corps reservist Mario Turner directs the Nichols Office of Veteran and Military Services, which opened last fall. He helps coordinate veterans’ services on campus and is aiming to double enrollment over the next two years.
“We’re working shoulder to shoulder with the Veterans Service Office in the town of Dudley,” Turner said, adding that he spends a considerable amount of time recruiting students.
He also referred to the community colleges in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island that Nichols has partnered with through the Nichols ABLE (Affordable Business Leadership Education) Initiative: “We’re building on our partnerships with ABLE schools.”
Turner meets with all Nichols undergraduate and graduate admission officers as well as with veterans interested in the College.
“Nichols College recognizes the significant value that student veterans bring to our campus and believes it is important we ensure they receive the best possible educational experience,” stated Nichols President Susan West Engelkemeyer, Ph.D., in a recent letter to the U.S. Department of Education’s (DOE) military affairs team.
President Engelkemeyer affirmed the College’s support for the DOE’s “8 Keys to Veterans’ Success,” including working with local community agencies and organizations to coordinate services for veterans; implementing an early alert system to identify veterans who may be struggling academically or financially; and creating a culture of trust and connectedness across the campus community to promote their well-being and success.