Whenever America’s service men and women receive their discharge papers, the regimentation that has influenced virtually every aspect of their lives suddenly vanishes and the contract that had bound the two parties together is dissolved. They become civilians. In most cases, civilians in search of opportunity.
Veterans often find that opportunity at community college. There, they can develop entirely new skill sets or enhance the ones they cultivated while serving their country in uniform.
But, making that transition from a military to a civilian lifestyle brings its own unique set of challenges. Learning how to overcome those challenges was the focus of the 2nd Annual Military and Education Summit held earlier this month in Hampton. Virginia’s Community Colleges joined forces with the Department of Veterans and Defense Affairs in hosting the two-day event.
Panelist Theresa Habib, a former marine who spent 20 years in the Corps, feels the public often underestimates veterans’ abilities and questions their value in today’s ever-changing, technology-driven workplace. That, she said, is a big misconception.
“What veterans bring out of their service time is super-valuable. Just because they may drive a tank doesn’t mean they might not make an excellent truck driver. We have a deeper level of experience than what our job description puts out there.”
Leslie Frazier, Virginia’s assistant secretary of Veterans and Defense Affairs, said the state needs to do a better job of marketing and in particular, leveraging technology to connect more effectively with the state’s younger veteran population. She also emphasized the important role of Virginia’s Community Colleges in higher education, especially for vets who are just getting out of the service and are trying to figure out their next move.
“(Do) you have a community college within a 30-mile radius of where you live? Why not use that as an avenue to figure out the next steps and get a great education in the process?”
Executive Vice President of Student Veterans of America, James Schmeling, said student veterans enter community college for a number of reasons. Some feel like that’s the only place they can go because they’re not ready for college while others see community college as a pathway they know they can use to go into a four-year degree program. Most consider it a low-cost option and a way for them to get into higher education.
“Sometimes, they use community colleges because they can pay out of pocket for their education and preserve their GI bill for a more expensive institution for a master’s degree.”
According to Schmeling, the average student veteran spends one to three semesters at a community college and then goes on to a four-year institution. He also pointed out that a little over half of student veterans are married and they frequently alternate who goes to school.
“Military spouses tend to be a little over-educated and a little underemployed, but there are still some who have not finished their degrees yet so they either take turns or they both go where it’s cost-effective.”
As a whole, Schmeling said Virginia does a great job educating student veterans and people come to Virginia for the quality of that education.
“Community colleges, I think, are a big part of that story.”
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