15:39 PM

CSUSM Joins National Program to Support Student Veterans

As a means of boosting the retention rate of student veterans, Cal State San Marcos has joined a nationwide peer support program that has helped thousands of student veterans across the country.

CSUSM has become one of 49 partner campuses of Peer Advisors for Veteran Education (PAVE), which connects incoming student veterans with those already on campus to help them navigate college life and ease the transition from the military to academia.

PAVE is a collaboration among the University of Michigan, Student Veterans of America and a network of partner campuses. CSUSM is the third partner campus from California State University, joining Chico and Fullerton.

Paul Tontz, who is coordinating PAVE at CSUSM as the director of Veteran Services, described it as a pilot program that will support 400 student veterans. CSUSM has hired a graduate assistant to help manage the program and three peer advisors to engage in outreach. The grad assistant is Jonathan Ramer, an Air Force veteran who's pursuing a master's degree in education at Point Loma Nazarene University.

Tontz pointed to data showing that one-year and four-year retention rates for transfer student veterans (who make up the majority of student veterans at CSUSM) are significantly lower than the rates for all students.

“This is saddening to me,” Tontz said. “More needs to be done to help engage these students in academic success and a sense of belonging. We’re thrilled to be partnering with PAVE, which will help our student veterans transition to higher education with the support of other current student veteran peer advisers.

“The approach is simple: outreach, support and referrals to campus partners and resources. Our team is hopeful that, with its implementation and the data that is collected through intentional outreach this spring, these rates will catch up and exceed the general student population.” 

The main goals of the PAVE program are to:

  • ease the transition from the military to academia;
  • improve student veterans’ sense of connectedness to their school;
  • create a safe haven and source of support;
  • identify mental health issues and other concerns in a timely manner and connect student veterans with appropriate resources;
  • improve student veteran academic performance;
  • and increase student veteran retention rates.

Since the program’s inception, more 1,600 peer advisors have been trained and over 25,000 student veterans have been contacted by peer advisors. PAVE is part of M-SPAN (Military Support Programs and Networks), a group of programs at the University of Michigan developed to address the needs and challenges faced by service members, veterans and military families.

In addition to PAVE, Tontz said CSUSM is acting to support student veterans in two other ways this semester: by establishing a deeper connection with Student Health & Counseling Services through virtual and in-person drop-in counseling hours at the Epstein Family Veterans Center, as well as a new collaboration with the Office of Success Coaching.