Military Friendly

NMU among top-ranked public schools

Mike Rutledge, coordinator for Northern Michigan University’s Student Veterans Services, is shown with his service dog, Welles. NMU just announced it ranks sixth among small public schools in the United States that have been designated 2019-20 Military Friendly Schools by Victory Media. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

MARQUETTE — Northern Michigan University ranks sixth among small public schools nationwide that have been designated 2019-20 Military Friendly Schools by Victory Media, marking NMU’s second consecutive Top-10 ranking in the category.

The designation honors the top 15 percent of colleges, universities and trade schools in the United States that provide benefits for military and veteran students.

“You’re compared to all other schools in your category based on the number of veterans who are attending, the services that are provided to them, our record in making sure that there’s no issues with their benefits, whether it be the G.I. Bill for veterans, or also dependents of veterans who receive some type of benefit,” said Mike Rutledge, a U.S. Army retiree who serves as the coordinator for NMU Student Veterans Services.

This means ensuring they have the proper certification and the like, which he acknowledged can be overlooked with the size of a bureaucracy such as the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Rutledge also is the staff adviser for the Student Veterans Association and a full-time veterans resource representative to help individuals at NMU and the community take advantage of benefits available to them because of their service.

To be ranked as a Military Friendly School, educational institutions complete an extensive survey covering 10 indicators of success, which include support for student veterans on campus, graduation and employment outcomes, and military spouse policies.

Rutledge said NMU also has earned the highest ranking from the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency, which ranks Michigan schools regardless of size.

NMU has almost 300 veterans enrolled, with that number varying from semester to semester, he said.

Their ages and backgrounds also vary.

“We have everywhere from literally senior citizen veterans, middle-aged, retirees, men and women who’ve recently retired from the military, to younger men and women who served three or four years and now are pursuing their degree,” said Rutledge, who noted admission standards for veterans are the same as for other students.

NMU is attractive to vets for a number of reasons, he said, including its Upper Peninsula location.

“At NMU, geography plays a huge role,” Rutledge said. “If you’re from the U.P., people will want to come back here and they attend NMU, but when they look at schools and if they’re willing to move somewhere, they look at the majors that are offered, and we have several that are very popular with veterans.”

Those include outdoor recreation leadership and management, fish and wildlife management, and criminal justice, he said, with outdoors-related majors being particularly attractive to Army or Marine veterans who saw a lot of outdoor activity in the service.

“They want to stay with that sort of environment,” Rutledge said. “They don’t want to go back to an urban environment.”

Another popular major is the new medicinal plant chemistry program.

“That probably is the one that we’re attracting the most veterans from out of Michigan,” Rutledge said. “We’re the only school in the country that offers it now.”

That major has received a lot of press.

“I get calls constantly from active duty people asking me if the VA pays for it, and yes, it does,” Rutledge said. “The VA covers that major.”

He said veterans and their dependents attending NMU don’t have to pay an application fee, which is waived, with the orientation fee paid by the VA.

NMU offers in-state tuition to all veterans as well as their spouses and children regardless of whether they’re using a VA benefit.

NMU’s Student Veterans Services, he said, manages and gives advice to students dealing with the VA.

“They don’t have to face the VA alone,” Rutledge said. “I can either directly advocate for them if it’s something to do with the education benefit, or if they need health care, if they want to file a disability claim, if they want to apply for a home loan using their VA benefit, I know exactly who to refer them to in town.”

Chris Tufnell, a 43-year-old student veteran studying environmental sustainability with a Geographic Information Systems certificate, assists Rutledge in the office, with the VA paying him for that work.

Tufnell, formerly a Russian linguist based in the Pacific who followed the Russian military, was an NMU student before he joined the service.

“I pretty much showed up here on day one and went to classes,” Tufnell said. “There was no real guidance or anything. This time coming back, if I had a question about ‘Where do I go? What do I do?’ there was somebody there to answer it for me.”

Rutledge believes it’s beneficial for NMU to serve veterans well.

“Veterans have a significantly higher retention and graduation rate than the general student population,” Rutledge said. “They’re much better students, and it’s probably got more to do with their age than anything else. They come out, they’re more mature, and veterans as a group are extremely goal oriented.

“They know exactly the things that they want to achieve, and they’ve learned this as part of their service.”

Since NMU is a business, Rutledge pointed out that since the G.I. Bill will pay the bills for many veterans, it helps the university financially.

It also helps the students.

“If they know their tuition and fees are going to be paid, and then with the new G.I. Bill, of course, they get a monthly living stipend,” Rutledge said.

For more information on NMU’s veteran services and benefits, visit nmu.edu/veterans. For background on the Military Friendly Schools rankings, visit militaryfriendly.com.