Veterans seek help navigating college

Military veterans are using an expanded GI Bill to seek college degrees, but college can be a “hostile environment,” says Roger Parker, a retired sergeant major who did three tours in Iraq, two in Afghanistan and one in Bosnia. Parker is studying health, fitness and nutrition at  Anne Arundel Community College in Maryland. Like many other veterans on campus, he needs help figuring out his benefits.

Two years after a broadened G.I. Bill took effect for veterans who served on or after Sept. 11, 2001, growing numbers are claiming benefits worth up to the full cost of the highest in-state tuition at a public university, plus stipends for books and living expenses. There were nearly 800,000 G.I. Bill beneficiaries last year, up more than 40 percent from the year before. Schools recruit such students because the veterans bring with them $11 billion a year in federal aid.

But veterans and their advocates say colleges need to step up efforts to help students adjust to campus life.

Some colleges, like Anne Arundel, have set up resource centers to help veterans make the transition to campus. At others, students are asking for a coordinator to provide information on veterans’ benefits and other issues.

Veterans are more likely to enroll part time or transfer among schools and generally don’t feel supported or understood, according to a survey by the Indiana University Center for Postsecondary Research. They’re twice as likely as other students to have disabilities and to spend more time working or raising families. Thirty-eight percent have trouble figuring out their benefits, according to a survey by the American Council on Education.

Veterans Affairs has cut processing time for GI Bill benefits and is testing a counseling program for student veterans at eight campuses.