Javier Rivera (right) talks with Edison State Community College executive advisor Doreen Larson (photo courtesy of Edison State Community College)
Ohio Life

How Ohio’s Collegiate Purple Star Designation Helps Students

The program recognizes colleges that have resources in place to aid military members, veterans and their families.

Active-duty military members, veterans and their families at times face challenges in education that are specific to the sacrifices that come with serving our country. Some schools have a designated employee or office to help these students find resources or access military benefits.

In 2017, the Ohio Department of Education codified that help into a group of requirements and resources, and then offered K-12 schools the chance to apply for a Purple Star designation. The Purple Star indicates that a school demonstrates an ongoing and organized commitment to U.S. military members and veterans and their families. In 2022, colleges and universities became eligible to apply for Collegiate Purple Star status

“There are dozens of national rankings out there for how military friendly your institution is,” explains Jared Shank, senior director of military and apprenticeship initiatives and special projects for the Ohio Department of Higher Education. “The majority of the rankings are not very helpful, because there’s not a lot of oversight of what they actually are and what the rankings entail.”

The Ohio Department of Higher Education co-created the Collegiate Purple Star designation with the Ohio Veterans Education Council, which drew up guidelines for what a military-family-friendly school should offer. (The color purple, a combination of red and blue, reflects the apolitical nature of the designation.)

As Shank explains it, the Purple Star program has several focal points.

“First and most important, there’s a point of contact in a physical office. That’s a huge help,” he says. “For the veteran or active-duty student, military spouse or dependent, that’s the office that handles their military benefits on campus, [such as G.I. Bill earnings] and can explain what the institution is doing for military-connected students.”

Second, Shank explains, veterans receive priority registration on campus, and the point of contact can help procure military transcripts for credit transfer. A veteran who has received Army training in electrical engineering can transfer that experience into credits. Someone who has served as a medic in the military has earned an EMT certificate.

“And third,” Shank continues, “at Collegiate Purple Star schools, service members and their families know they will have access to many benefits, such as a career-services person who is trained to translate military service into civilian language for jobs and internships.”

Purple Star schools also have a designated office or room that often turns into a place for college students to meet and socialize with fellow veterans or military family members, complete with coffee, snacks and often printers or computers for student use.

Edison State Community College in Piqua is one of 33 schools to receive the inaugural Collegiate Purple Star designation in Ohio. Joe Ratermann, the college’s career pathways advisor and veteran services specialist, says the school jumped at the chance.

“Edison State Community College, like many other Ohio schools, already had many of these programs in place,” he says. “What the Purple Star did, however, was give educational institutions the opportunity to memorialize many of the things they were doing already, and clearly and concisely develop policies to ensure the continuation of the delivery of those services.”

Javier Rivera is a student at Edison State Community College who is studying cybersecurity on his way to an associate degree in applied business and eventually a bachelor’s degree in applied business for cybersecurity. Rivera served in the United States Marine Corps for five years. Having spent one year at Edison State before the Collegiate Purple Star designation was available, Rivera says he has noticed a difference since the school received the designation.

“A few of the services have been amplified and highlighted,” he says. “More students seem more comfortable approaching and seeking, knowing about services they didn’t know before — stuff they never considered would have been an option. We can go to the office and see what’s available and know that Joe is a point of contact if we have a question.”

Ratermann, who himself is a veteran who served eight years in the Marines and 14 in the Army, is proud of his work with Edison State Community College’s veterans and their families as part of the Purple Star program.

“We wanted to be a part of this,” he says, “because we believe that after veterans have provided service and sacrifice to their country, it’s our opportunity to reciprocate and provide outstanding service and opportunity for those who defend our nation and their families.” 

To learn more about the program, visit highered.ohio.gov and enter “Collegiate Purple Star” into the search box.

This story ran in the Winter-Spring 2023 issue of College 101.