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With the prolonged U.S. involvement in conflicts around the globe, a new generation of military veterans is returning home.
This is a different generation of veterans—they’re smart, they have skills and they have comprehensive educational benefits. An estimated 2 million service members and their families are eligible for newly expanded benefits under the federal Post 9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act.
Community colleges are ideal to meet the needs of veterans. They are located in geographically dispersed areas that make education available and accessible, and they offer an introduction to the benefits of education, regardless of one’s goals. In addition, two-year college programs and staff are intrinsically committed to helping students overcome obstacles to success.
With the commitment to creating a veteran-friendly environment, community colleges can aptly serve this valuable population.
The new GI Bill
Signed in to law in 2008, the new GI Bill offers up to 100 percent tuition and fee assistance at institutions of higher learning, housing assistance, an annual stipend for books and school supplies, and the option to transfer benefits to immediate family members.
This article is part of a bimonthly series provided by the National Council for Marketing & Public Relations, an affiliated council of the American Association of Community Colleges.
These new benefits have created a surge in the number of veterans, service members and their family members attending college. In Oregon, the number of veterans receiving educational benefits increased 89.5 percent (from 4,563 to 8,726) in the 26-month period from March 2009 to May 2011. This increased enrollment is driving the need for more support and student services for this population.
The majority of military undergraduates are between ages 24 and 39, increasingly diverse and female, and likely to be married. Balancing family life and transitioning from the structure of military service makes marketing the college experience focused on both the student and the entire family essential. Visibility is the first need military undergraduates have to find services. Clear community, Web and campus presence is central to beginning the transition to college.
In 2009, Clackamas Community College (CCC) in Oregon was one of 20 colleges and universities awarded an American Council on Education (ACE) Walmart Foundation Success for Veterans grant. CCC also received a federal grant to improve outreach to veterans in the region.
Through these efforts, combined with rich community partnerships, CCC has made veteran outreach and service a key college initiative. From this work and the work of other community colleges around the country, best practices have emerged to meet the needs of our military and veteran students. Some key lessons:
In 1947, the Truman’s Commission Higher Education for Democracy rightly identified community colleges as the educational entity best positioned to address the needs of veterans. Today more than ever, we are best prepared to serve those who serve our country.
Truesdell is president of Clackamas Community College (CCC) in Oregon. Paulson is public information officer at CCC and director of District 7 of the National Council for Marketing and Public Relations.
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