As the nation prepares to honor veterans later this month, it is important to reflect not only on their service and sacrifice but also on how we as a country must do more to meet the needs of veterans looking to earn a college degree or credential.
In California, with an estimated 1.8 million military veterans, approximately 89,000 veterans, active duty members and dependents are enrolled at a California Community Colleges campus. Student veterans are an essential component of our colleges and we recognize the value of their life experiences as they enhance the diversity of our student body.
More than 90 of those 114 campuses have a veterans resource center dedicated to providing veterans and active duty military personnel the tools and support they need to succeed. But more must be done both at the state and national level.
We need to extend the educational benefits of the Post 9/11 GI Bill. Currently, tuition and fees are covered for the first 36 months. But, like many students, veterans can change their mind about what to study while in school. That sets them back in securing a degree or certificate, yet the 36-month clock keeps ticking.
Especially vulnerable are veterans who are pursuing STEM-related degrees, which can take longer to complete. This move, alone, would make a significant difference in the number of veterans able to earn a degree before their GI educational benefits run out.
We need to strengthen transition assistance programs to ensure active duty military know more about their educational options once they leave the service. Such programs should educate soon-to-be veterans about the nuances involved in the Post 9/11 GI Bill, the vocational rehabilitation program, and other services that can smooth a transition to civilian life.
Accelerating approval needed to secure tuition and housing assistance.
Additionally, we need stronger and uniform policies on awarding credit for prior learning creates academic hurdles and barriers for veterans who often have acquired a wealth of formal and informal knowledge prior to their enrollment as a college student. It simply makes no sense for a military intelligence officer with extensive training in cybersecurity, for example, to start from scratch when enrolling in college for a degree in computer science.
Our military veterans transitioning to colleges and universities face far too many challenges. We must continue to improve support and service for them – not just this month, but every day.