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Personalized Approaches and Non-Traditional Students are Bigger Draw for Vets Going to College

Since the Post 9/11 GI Bill went into effect four years ago, an estimated 773,000 veterans and their family members have taken advantage of the benefits that allow them to pursue higher degrees, the VA reports.

For many, private, career colleges and community colleges are a more viable option than four-year state universities.

At Bryant & Stratton Online College, veteran enrollment has shot up from about 20 in 2010 to about 90 veteran students, said Ed Dennis, Military Relations Manager for Online Education at Bryant & Stratton College.

“The personalized approach in private schools, community colleges are in the communities they grew up in, that's what attracts to them to those schools,” Dennis said.

Bryant & Stratton has an extensive support network for veteran students, Dennis said, starting with placement testing to ensure students are ready for college-level course work. Students receive four key documents: syllabus, supplemental syllabus, tracking calendar and grading rubrics.

Dennis guides them to view the documents and rubrics as core tasks similar to what they had to accomplish in the military which helps the students make an easier transition to academic life, he said. Spouses are also following their example.

“That’s what I do for our veteran students … I put it in that context for them,” he said. “In the military they have excellent time management and backwards planning skills. It’s the same amount of work, but they’re able to manage their time and how they do it.”

In the first two years that Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits were offered there may have been some questionable recruiting practices that drew more veterans to specific schools, said Ted Jimenez, associate registrar for Metropolitan State University of Denver. Some schools received tuition payment in full from the VA then passed a financial incentive on to the student to encourage them to enroll in their programs, Jimenez said. In August 2011, the VA changed the process to ensure the VA is the last payer of tuition or fees.

“They’d say OK, you’re a veteran, we’ll give you a $500 scholarship for being a veteran,” Jimenez said of the typical scheme. “If tuition was $3,000, the VA would pay that. They were essentially overcharging the VA. Where as now, if there was a $500 scholarship a student was going to receive, that would be applied first and the VA would only be paying $2,500.”

There’s also a significant cultural difference between state universities and for-profit and community colleges, said Braelin Pantel, Associate Dean of Student Engagement and Wellness for Metropolitan State University of Denver.

“Our average student age is 26; in some ways our demographic may feel more familiar to someone who spent four, six, eight years in the service,” she said. “It’s unlikely you’ll be the only nontraditional student in the class. Our demographic is really kind of welcoming to the military community for that reason.”

Dennis agreed.

“If you take a 21-year-old, 22-year-old veteran, their whole frame of reference and life experience is very different from someone in their same age group who went from high school to college,” Dennis said. “[Veterans] tend not to relate to them. You often hear, ‘They seem like kids to me.’ That’s a very common thing you’ll hear from veterans who go back to college.”

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