When Andrew Tator began studying at SUNY Cobleskill in August of 2009, little things he saw made him feel out of place.
The 17-year Marine veteran paused when he saw somebody toss rubbish on the ground or walk off the sidewalk and on the grass.
“It is quite a culture shock,” said Tator, 40, of Cobleskill.
He was one of few students who experienced the life-changing effects of military discipline and war — and he wasn’t sure how alone he was on the campus of more than 2,000 students.
Following organizing efforts that led to a new Student Veteran Association, the addition of a college Director of Veterans Affairs and construction of a veterans memorial on campus, Tator walks proudly at SUNY Cobleskill.
For the second straight year, the SUNY College of Agriculture and Technology was designated a Military Friendly School by Victory Media, a media company formed by three Navy veterans in 2001 to market the military community to corporate America.
There’s also a college staffer dedicated to helping veterans negotiate their way through financial aid programs and benefits they are entitled to.
“They help out a lot,” said Tator, who, after serving as an aircraft firefighter from 1991 to 2008 in sites including Iraq, earned an associate’s degree in physical education and then a bachelor’s degree in business.
In Tator’s experience, administrators and others at the college have been supportive.
Veterans can park for free, and they don’t have to fear “incompletes” if they get deployed while taking classes.
They are offered deferment loan plans; the college will wait for the money the federal government provides for veteran education.
“The good thing is we’ve grown so much over the past four years,” Tator said.
The Student Veteran Association now draws about 20 regular attending students that are veterans — and it’s an active group.
They hold ceremonies on Veterans Day, raise money for needy causes like Hurricane Irene flood victims and participate as a group in the Wreathes Across America effort to decorate veteran graves.
“I think it shows the college, the administration, the faculty and staff are very sympathetic with veterans. I look at it as a point of pride,” Tator said.
College Veterans Affairs Director Matthew LaLonde said he intends to see to it that SUNY Cobleskill, one of about 200 colleges in New York, stays on the list of Veteran Friendly schools.
Times are different today than when LaLonde, a Navy veteran, went to college.
“I was very frustrated vet, because I felt there really wasn’t anything special ... for vets,” LaLonde said.
After 2001, military benefits for soldiers were expanded to the point where veterans can get tuition paid for entirely; before, the GI bill provided barely enough to get through college, he said.
“There’s been a huge shift. A number of schools now offer quality veterans’ programs, and SUNY Cobleskill happens to be one of them,” LaLonde said.
“It’s definitely a lot more veteran friendly market now,” he said.
LaLonde said roughly 15 percent of higher education institutions get the Veteran Friendly designation.
“In my opinion, it’s a fairly prestigious recognition,” LaLonde said.
The Military Friendly Schools list is developed after surveys of learning institutions are conducted with the goal of identifying those that “are doing the most to embrace military students and ensure their success in the classroom and after graduation,” according to Victory Media.
Sean Collins, vice president at Victory Media, said in a release that the college’s designation demonstrates a commitment to providing veterans with a supportive environment.
“The need for education is growing and our mission is to provide the military community with transparent, world-class resources to assist in their search for schools,” Collins said.
Several Capital Region learning institutions are held up as Military Friendly, including Bryant and Stratton College, Hudson Valley Community College, Schenectady County Community College, Siena College, The College of Saint Rose, Union College and the University at Albany.
Veterans can peruse the list of Military Friendly Schools at militaryschools.com.
Reach Gazette reporter Edward Munger Jr. at 212-6223 or firstname.lastname@example.org.