For the second year in a row, Houston Baptist University has received the Military Friendly® School Designation by Victory Media, a veteran-owned rating and advocacy organization. HBU received the designation in the education category, which is awarded to educational institutions based upon financial aid offered, and the services available to military service members and their families. This year marks the first time the University has received the Gold classification; in the previous year, the University received the Silver classification.
The honor recognizes a concerted effort by HBU leadership to better serve the veteran student population. Ed Borges, HBU senior director of Special Projects, said the work began behind the scenes almost three years ago. “Identifying ways that we can help enhance the experience of our student veterans is a top priority, and one that is very important to our campus community beginning with our University president, Dr. Robert Sloan,” Borges said. “We began by reviewing our processes and services to identify areas where we could improve.”
Veteran Gino Manguino, ’17, was one of the students who was instrumental in making the transformation a reality. Manguino served as an infantryman in the U.S. Army from 2009 to 2013. When he returned to Houston and enrolled in college, most of his friends had already completed college. “It was hit and miss when it came to meeting other veterans,” he said. “Several veterans and I started working with Ed Borges. We would tell him things we needed — like to be 100 percent Yellow Ribbon Program qualified.” (The Yellow Ribbon Program helps veterans to attend private schools and graduate programs costing more than the state tuition cap.)
The HBU Office of Veterans Affairs began assisting veterans with each step in the application, admissions and enrollment process. As part of serving veterans in a more efficient way, the Registrar’s Office moved them to the front of the line, working to certify their benefits well before their class start date. Perhaps most significantly, the University upped its tuition matching with the Yellow Ribbon Program to be unlimited.
HBU Veterans Coordinator Mary Pinto summarized HBU’s approach: “Veterans deserve everything we can give them, and we believe we should do all we can to make things run smoothly,” she said.
The next step in military friendliness was creating a forum that veterans could call their own. Manguino emphasizes that veterans greatly benefit from comrade connectedness. “One thing I really missed about the military is the brotherhood we had,” he said. “When I first left the military, I really felt like I was lost. And then, in college, obviously a lot of my fellow classmates were younger than me.”
He talked with Borges about starting the Husky Veterans Association. “We got together and decided to make this thing happen,” Manguino said. “He had recognized that student veterans were a special population on campus. We started putting the steps together to be chartered at HBU.”
From there, HVA took root, and the organization was given office and meeting space on the second floor of the Baugh Center. The association isn’t isolated from fellow students, however. Members participate in events and fundraisers alongside fellow Huskies.
The number of veterans receiving an HBU education has tripled since HBU began its pointed outreach. The University plans to continue perfecting its offerings to veterans. “With the commitment that veterans have made in serving our country,” Borges said, “we believe we have a tremendous responsibility of providing them with the best possible education when they come back.”