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Community colleges and public four-year institutions in Maryland have joined a statewide compact to improve on-campus services for students who are military veterans.
Participating institutions pledge to designate an office or staff person as a ‘go-to’ for all student veterans to help them navigate everything from GI Bill paperwork to behavioral health counseling.
Several colleges, such as the College of Southern Maryland (CSM), already have such a designated position.
"Our student body has one of the highest percentages of veterans in the state,” said CSM President Brad Gottfried. “We value their service and work closely with them to ensure that they are getting the service they need to be successful."
At the beginning of the spring 2011 semester, CSM provided veteran certification for 456 students, according to Christine Deen, veterans affairs coordinator at the college. For the 2010-11 academic year to date, more than 500 students have received veteran certification status.
Guidance through the process
Among those CSM students are Vicente Chavarria, who served as a Marine for six years and was discharged with a disability, and Madison Gardner, who served in the U.S. Navy.
“Following the Marines, I wasn’t getting the job I wanted. I knew I needed to get a degree,” said Chavarria, who enrolled at CSM in January 2010 to begin his pursuit of a bachelor’s degree in accounting.
Chavarria said that the process of applying for and using his GI benefits has been easy for him through CSM’s online services.
“I go onto veterans services on the CSM website to file for my benefits,” Chavarria said. “All paperwork and registration is done electronically, which makes everything easier.”
Now experienced in the benefits process, Chavarria is a work-study student helping CSM advise and process paperwork for other student veterans.
Gardner enrolled at CSM in September 2009, using her GI benefits to pay for tuition. After four years of service in the Navy, Gardner decided to transition out of the military to pursue an early childhood education degree.
“I wouldn’t be a student right now,” Gardner said, without the student support services team that assisted her in obtaining GI benefits certification, enrolling at CSM and registering for classes.
The Maryland Campus Compact for Student Veterans calls on the state’s higher education community to do more for the men and women who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces. It requires campus officials to provide training for faculty, staff and student leadership to promote greater awareness of veterans' issues, and it encourages campuses to create student veteran organizations to provide incoming veteran students with necessary support from their peers, who are also transitioning back into their communities.
More than 22,000 Iraq-Afghanistan veterans and more than 15,000 Maryland veterans received GI Bill education benefits during the fall 2010 semester, according to state officials.
Copyright ©2012 American Association of Community Colleges