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Community Colleges: Serving Those that Served

By Ygnacio Flores, Don Mason and Tracy Rickman

Not since the Vietnam era, have so many combat veterans returned to acclimate to society. Unlike the 1960s, services to veterans are available and the community college has become a natural pathway back into society. Community colleges now have the resources in a veteran friendly fashion that makes the transition from soldier to student nearly seamless.

The goal of a community college is to provide students with the knowledge and background necessary to compete in today’s economy. The student population is vast, ranging from those experiencing college for the first time to the lifelong learner returning to school to obtain a new skill. Somewhere nestled with this range is the veteran. After serving their country the veteran seeks a way to transfer the skills and experiences from the military into an educational opportunity that enables them to compete in today’s economy and contribute to society. With a wide range of educational offerings, community colleges provide workforce training, basic courses in English and math, certificate and degree programs and preparation for transfer to four-year institutions. Veterans should be afforded the opportunity to the services and resources available to serve their needs. If they so freely and willingly served, we as educators should remain committed to serving them.

Located in southern California, Rio Hondo College and the Office of Veteran’s Services offers:

  • Montgomery GI Bill
  • Veterans Education Assistance Program
  • Dependent Education Assistance Reserve Education Assistance Program
  • Vocational Rehabilitation
  • California Dependent Fee Waiver and
  • Tuition Assistance.

nash 1The Office of Student Affairs also offers services for military personnel who may be suffering from, or have symptoms of, Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD). Counseling and referrals are available to assist in the adjustment to civilian life for those who have issues coping with what they faced during combat. The college has a behavior intervention team (BIT) staffed by faculty, administrators, staff and mental health professionals who meet and discuss student issues campus wide. If there is an incident involving a veteran, specific protocols are in place to treat the veteran with dignity and identify the appropriate services and personnel that can best address their needs.

Recruiters or educational institutions do not always appreciate the experience that veterans gain from their military service. Once veterans honorably leave their uniforms behind, there is no reason for that experience and knowledge to be left in the closet with their medals and ribbons. The experiences and skills learned in the armed services can benefit the public sector in many ways. Leadership, time management, discipline and understanding of hierarchy, chain of command and span of control all are learned traits of those that served or currently serving in our military. These skills can hardly be learned in other career communities in the same amount of time as one term of service.

Public administrators would be wise to hire former military men and women as their life experiences reflect the traits many employers find desirable. Colleges and universities throughout the country have learned the need to expand course offerings, certificates and degrees in specific areas as service members have begun to utilize the GI Bill, which provides for continued learning in the civilian world. Homeland security, emergency management, disaster preparedness and global incident management systems are only a few topics in which community colleges have developed and expanded to meet the need of the former military members turned students.

nash 3The most important feature community colleges have to offer is an environment that benefits veterans in attaining their educational and career goals. This is usually measured by a college participating in the Yellow Ribbon Program, in addition to being designated a Military Friendly School by G.I. Jobs. The Yellow Ribbon Program is a voluntary program where a veteran’s tuition and fees, above the funds provided by the GI Bill, are offset by additional funds from the institution. A Military Friendly School is a college that has demonstrated it has resources dedicated to serving veterans. This may include a college awarding credit through the college level examination programs (CLEP) and DANTES subject standardized test (DSST) exams, as well as the American Council on Education (ACE) and Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges (SOC) programs for military training and experience. Working with special counselors veterans can decide what educational or vocational program is best for their career aspirations. These colleges additionally support veterans through clubs, academic and vocational programs and assistance with programs that hire veterans.

Community colleges have also hired veterans in all categorizations of employees: classified, faculty and management. Veterans bring a wealth of knowledge to the colleges that integrate their experiences into continued public service. Many of the service-related experiences are directly applied to work in the facilities plants, teaching and management. At Rio Hondo College, veterans have worked as mechanics, faculty, deans and vice presidents. These employees also serve as unofficial advisors to veterans enrolled at the college.

nash 2Rio Hondo College also strengthens its community connections through its support of employees that volunteer to serve in the National Guard. College administrators believe that the knowledge and experiences learned in the National Guard are a return on investment for the time these volunteers serve. Service in the National Guard guarantees these volunteers continue to learn valuable skills that find their way back to the campus community.

Community colleges strive to find ways to provide the training and education that relate to the service members’ military experiences. One key trait learned in the military is the ability to care for others, a trait lost in many portions of contemporary society. Some community colleges offer certificate and degree programs that focus on vocational careers. These programs meld the experience component of practice with the theory component of education, allowing veterans a seamless transition to the civilian life through their individual experiences.

Community colleges also provide veterans with priority enrollment and registration, a privilege not always available to non-military students. This privilege allows veterans to pursue their educational plans in a timely matter. Veterans are also encouraged to study and collaborate together. These cohorts can further be guided by counselors who are veterans, forging a foundation of transitional understanding and community. Community colleges are building bridges for the returning veteran, acknowledging their special needs while providing support and assistance as they transfer back to civilian life.

For additional information on educational programs and services for veterans, please use the links below:

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