College Ramps Up Efforts for Expected Influx of Veteran Students

By Robert Frenke

The college is in the process of initiating programs to help military veterans returning home transition into the classroom by designing programs specifically tailored for this specialized breed of student.

Some schools have set up campus veteran liaisons, mentoring programs and are updating policies to accept transfer credits from veteran’s military experience into their academic careers. The school already accepts a certain amount of credits that can be transferred from a veteran’s military background. According to school officials more programs and resources are currently in the works.

Since May of last year, more than 112,000 veterans nationwide have applied for the educational benefits offered by the Post 9/11 GI Bill, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Many more are expected to apply for their benefits with the impending withdrawal from Afghanistan.

“We need to set up programs that are tailored for these vets,” said Prof. Lars Hedstrom, a broadcasting instructor and a 25 year veteran. “We need to plan for these students who are bringing real world experience into our classrooms.”

The bill significantly increases the amount paid for tuition and expenses than the previous one. For veterans attending public colleges and universities, it will fully cover in-state tuition, as well as provide a Basic Allowance for Housing and up to $1,000 per year for books, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. However the so-called GI Bill 2.0, which went into effect in August and October of last year included a new $17,500 a year cap on tuition and fees coverage for veterans attending private universities. It also prorates the housing stipend based on the amount of credit a student veteran takes, and removes the “interval pay” which allowed veterans to continue to receive payments during scheduled school breaks, such as winter and spring breaks.

Many veterans were unaware and unprepared for the changes last year. This could have been a result of a lack of communication and not knowing where to go to find out about the changes to the GI Bill.

“We’re trying to get everyone together,” said Dawn Short, an administrator in Registrar. “We’re trying to create a one spot resource to get this done for the veterans so three or four different departments aren’t all trying to get in touch with the VA and figure out what needs to be done. This way all the departments can just refer to one central area that can communicate with the school, the VA and the vets more effectively.”

Currently the only resource for student vets to go is the registrar’s office, but according to Short, they’re only trained in the paperwork end of the spectrum, although they do try to go above and beyond the call of duty when it comes to trying to provide veterans with any assistance they can. She says the major player in trying to bring about some of the expected changes is Dean Thomas E. Coleman, Campus Associate Dean of Academic Affairs.

“He’s really the man spearheading the whole initiative,” said Sharon Silverstein, Director of Campus Activities. “It’s promising that there are people on all three campuses who are taking these concerns with the utmost importance.”

One of the initiatives that is being looked into is setting up a “one-stop shopping center” for vets so they could go to one place that can handle their unique needs and any issues that may arise including housing, financial, medical, and psychological problems.

While other initiatives have already been put in place some veteran students may not know about. One initiative is the Student Veterans of America Chapter, which was recently set up on some campuses to increase camaraderie and support for vets.

The Registrar plans on putting a veteran’s board outside their office with a list of helpful numbers and information veterans can refer to even when the office is closed, according to Short.

“We have a huge opportunity to serve our veteran community here,” Hedstrom said. “If there are one or two schools with stunning programs for vets, they’ll be the real contenders for veterans who want to earn their degrees. We need to make that process as smooth as possible for these guys.”

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