Colleges have long recruited military veterans as students, incentivized in part by the original 1944 GI Bill and its successors to fund higher education for members of the armed services. But a singular focus on getting veterans enrolled can leave them on their own once they’ve entered the classroom.

Having students and staff with military experience is valuable as more than a financial boon to campuses, and colleges need to reconsider how to engage with them, according to Seth Bodnar, president of the University of Montana. Bodnar is an Army veteran and remains a member of the National Guard. Before joining the University of Montana, he was a senior executive at General Electric and taught economics at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, his alma mater.

Bodnar shared his thoughts on how his Army background influences his leadership style, how colleges can recruit veterans as students and employees, and the benefits of engaging with student protests.

HIGHER ED DIVE: How did the skills you gained during your military service transfer to leading a large university?

SETH BODNAR: You learn pretty quickly in the military that your job is not to know everything or have every answer at every moment. Your job is to provide leadership and direction for your platoon and to draw upon the knowledge and expertise of the people in that organization to help it be the most effective it can.

That applies to a university, the military, a business — anywhere. And so I think those skills are absolutely transferable.

How does the University of Montana work to support veterans who enroll?

Historically, the university has been a great one for veterans. What we’ve done over my time here is established that we don’t want to just be a place that supports veterans while they’re here. We want to be a place that attracts veterans and military families. We’re approaching both because anybody who has been in the military knows that every member of that family is serving.

We launched an office of military and veteran services and constantly ask ourselves how to build services that lead us to be the most military-friendly university in the country. That’s the goal we’re aiming toward, and we’re steadily making progress toward it.

Also, we make sure the narrative about veterans is not just seeing them as a population that needs our help or the gratitude of a grateful nation. We see veterans as a strategic national resource. It’s a group of people that needs to be supported to continue their mission of serving this country.

Read the full article about veterans and higher education by Laura Spitalniak at Higher Education Dive.