Veterans Upward Bound: Low-income veterans prep for college through free federal programs

Jeremy Killingsworth says all he could see for two miles from his father’s home in Texas was another dirt road, another field. His formal education ended at eighth grade. At 29, he’d been laid off and lost his home. The Navy veteran served two tours in Iraq and one in Africa. He wanted more than a monotonous view and limited job opportunities.

So he moved to Denver, where a helpful worker at the Community Resources and Referral Center handed him a stack of papers with leads for veterans that included the Veterans Upward Bound program at Metropolitan State University of Denver. He called the day classes started and was attending class two days later.

“I really can’t praise (the program) enough — I honestly can’t,” Killingsworth said. “They’re amazing at what they do. It’s almost like they take the journey with you. They’re there to help support you the whole time.”

For Killingsworth, that support includes college prep classes, help finding grants and scholarships, leads on housing, testing to match his skills and interests with degree programs and friendship.

“The guys here have gone out of their way to help me with any situation, whether it was school-related or not,” he said.

Killingsworth is about halfway through 12 weeks of college-prep math and English classes. His classmates are 12 to 15 other veterans, some in their 60s.

“It’s a great way to make that transition just because our veterans are going through this program with veterans like themselves with common experiences,” said Leroy Chavez, project director for federal TRIO Veterans Upward Bound at Metro State and a graduate of the program himself. “It just makes that transition a lot easier. The camaraderie has a lot to do with the success of the program.”

Veterans Upward Bound was launched in 1972 to help returning Vietnam veterans continue their educations. Metropolitan State University of Denver was one of the first schools in the country to become part of the program.

“What we’re trying to do is simulate a college enrollment,” Chavez said. “We’re offering our classes here on campus, veterans in our programs have access to facilities and services as a regularly enrolled college student would have. The goal is to refresh their academic skills and abilities. The experience we provide sort of eases their transition into higher education.”

And it’s all completely free to qualified veterans. The U.S. Department of Educationfunds 51 different programsat schools across the country to help veterans such as Killingsworth continue their educations. Each local program differs slightly, depending on the location and specific veteran population. But the overall goal is to help low-income and first-generation college student veterans pursue degrees.

“In a nutshell, what we do is we help veterans get admitted to college so they can get the training they need to get a good job and good quality of life,” said Rick Wright, coordinator for Veterans Upward Bound at Western Kentucky University. “For the veterans, it’s a great program because it’s one-stop shopping for them. It’s a place they can go to get all the assistance, all the help, all the support they need under one roof all at one college.”

For 20 years, WKU has been helping veterans pursue their educations, whether it’s at a nearby technical college, WKU or anywhere else the veteran chooses.

“For us, it’s a labor of love,” Wright said. “As a grateful nation we feel obligated to do everything we can to help every veteran who walks through our doors.”

Killingsworth says he’s grateful he found the program. He’s on track to earn his GED, earn an associate degree as a computer security specialist and then transfer to Metro State for a four-year degree in computer information systems management.

“I’m not letting anything stand in the way of my education at the moment. I’m staying at a homeless shelter, but I still show up to school every day,” he said. “This program compared to other programs I’ve been in has been such a blessing.”

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