USA — Summit Highlights Veterans’ College Successes, Challenges

WASHINGTON — Not­ing that America’s com­mu­ni­ty col­leges pro­vide a gate­way to good jobs and a bet­ter life for mil­lions of Amer­i­cans, Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma this week told one veteran’s sto­ry to illus­trate his point.

“Derek Blumke spent six years in the Air Force, three deploy­ments in the Afghan the­ater putting his life at risk to keep this coun­try safe,” Oba­ma said. “When he returned, he start­ed class­es at his local com­mu­ni­ty col­lege in north­ern Michigan.” 

Blumke earned an associate’s degree with hon­ors while con­tin­u­ing to serve in the Air Nation­al Guard, the pres­i­dent said, then trans­ferred to the Uni­ver­si­ty of Michigan. 

“He grad­u­at­ed just a few weeks ago,” the pres­i­dent said. “And while he was there, he co-found­ed Stu­dent Vet­er­ans of Amer­i­ca to help return­ing vet­er­ans like himself.” 

Dr. Jill Biden, a com­mu­ni­ty col­lege instruc­tor and wife of Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Biden, host­ed the first White House Sum­mit on Com­mu­ni­ty Col­leges yes­ter­day. The event spot­light­ed the key role that local col­leges play in Amer­i­can edu­ca­tion and work force development. 

“I have vis­it­ed com­mu­ni­ty col­leges around the coun­try,” she said. “These stu­dents are work­ing hard to get the train­ing and edu­ca­tion they need to make their lives better.”

Biden told of one for­mer com­mu­ni­ty col­lege stu­dent who wrote to the White House Web site detail­ing her strug­gles to attend school, raise three chil­dren and pay her bills. That woman is now employed and holds both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree, Biden said. 

“She wrote, ‘Com­mu­ni­ty col­leges did­n’t just change my life, they gave me my life,’ ” she added. 

The pres­i­dent said the Unit­ed States is invest­ing in com­mu­ni­ty col­leges and in mak­ing col­lege more affordable. 

“All of this will help ensure that we con­tin­ue to lead the glob­al econ­o­my — but only if we main­tain this com­mit­ment to edu­ca­tion that’s always been cen­tral to our suc­cess,” he said. 

The sum­mit brought togeth­er stu­dents, admin­is­tra­tors, com­mu­ni­ty lead­ers and gov­ern­ment offi­cials, includ­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the depart­ments of Edu­ca­tion and Vet­er­ans Affairs. Break­out pan­el ses­sions included: 

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and his wife, Deb­o­rah, both par­tic­i­pat­ed in a dis­cus­sion focus­ing on the oppor­tu­ni­ties and chal­lenges fac­ing ser­vice­mem­bers, vet­er­ans and mil­i­tary spous­es con­sid­er­ing or attend­ing the nation’s com­mu­ni­ty colleges. 

“This is a very excit­ing oppor­tu­ni­ty for me to con­nect with what’s going on at the com­mu­ni­ty col­lege lev­el, and see, as some­one asked, what the bar­ri­ers are,” said the admi­ral, who mod­er­at­ed the ses­sion. “I think that’s a good ques­tion: What’s work­ing and what isn’t?” 

The chairman’s wife said her inter­est in edu­ca­tion extends beyond veterans. 

“I’m inter­est­ed in edu­ca­tion for not just vet­er­ans, but also for mil­i­tary spous­es,” she said. “And of par­tic­u­lar inter­est is female vet­er­ans who … may not have the job skills [after leav­ing ser­vice] and have in many cas­es found their way, unfor­tu­nate­ly, into homelessness.” 

Blumke, the Air Force vet­er­an Oba­ma high­light­ed as an exam­ple, also par­tic­i­pat­ed in the chairman’s pan­el. Fit­ting in and feel­ing com­fort­able is the biggest chal­lenge vet­er­ans face in return­ing to col­lege, he said. 

“The GI Bill is incred­i­bly help­ful,” he said. “It’s mak­ing the dif­fer­ence in being able to pay for school. But the big issue is social.” 

Vet­er­ans are old­er than oth­er stu­dents, and often have health issues that hin­der their inte­gra­tion into an aca­d­e­m­ic envi­ron­ment, Blumke said. Hav­ing dealt with depres­sion, iso­la­tion and post-trau­mat­ic stress dur­ing his first few months at com­mu­ni­ty col­lege, he advised col­leges to focus on build­ing groups that bring vet­er­ans togeth­er to sup­port each oth­er. He said appoint­ing ded­i­cat­ed fac­ul­ty advi­sors, prefer­ably vet­er­ans, can help to ensure a group’s con­ti­nu­ity in the tran­si­to­ry com­mu­ni­ty col­lege environment. 

Con­stance M. Car­roll, chan­cel­lor of the San Diego Com­mu­ni­ty Col­lege Dis­trict, agreed that vet­er­an sup­port is cru­cial to col­lege suc­cess. Her dis­trict serves a pop­u­la­tion of more than 9,000 vet­er­ans and fam­i­ly mem­bers, she said. 

“What we try to do for each col­lege is have a pre­dictable and com­pre­hen­sive set of ser­vices that are well-pub­lished, with a lot of out­reach,” she said. 

Rein­te­gra­tion ser­vices, sui­cide pre­ven­tion pro­grams and men­tal health ser­vices should be basic con­sid­er­a­tions to a com­mu­ni­ty col­lege serv­ing vet­er­ans, Car­roll said. 

“We have stu­dents who come to us with trau­mat­ic brain injury from the wars, which often­times requires spe­cial­ized coun­sel­ing and treat­ment, and relearn­ing cer­tain skills,” she said. “We have a new pro­gram, Heroes to Health­care, which actu­al­ly trains vet­er­an stu­dents to work with oth­er vet­er­an stu­dents in the areas of health care.” 

Cal­i­for­nia offers pri­or­i­ty enroll­ment and pri­or­i­ty ser­vice to veterans. 

“A 360-degree approach is need­ed. … [Vet­er­ans] come in all sizes, shapes and ages,” she said. “Giv­en their ser­vice to our nation, that is the first area we budget.” 

Mullen said most ser­vice­mem­bers near­ing the end of their enlist­ments look for­ward to return­ing to civil­ian life, but often don’t do the plan­ning that can help them rein­te­grate smooth­ly. Many vet­er­ans, he explained, “cross this bridge from struc­ture and sup­port and com­bat expe­ri­ence and things I nev­er imag­ined I’d see, in some cas­es, back to where I came from, … and now I’m out there alone.” 

The chair­man said the ser­vices and the Defense Depart­ment have a respon­si­bil­i­ty to inform vet­er­ans about the edu­ca­tion­al oppor­tu­ni­ties that await them, and to help them pre­pare to cross that bridge. 

Anoth­er pan­el mem­ber, Michael Wal­coff, the act­ing under­sec­re­tary of vet­er­ans affairs for ben­e­fits, said VA has pilot­ed and is expand­ing a pro­gram called Vet Suc­cess on Cam­pus, designed to help vet­er­ans tran­si­tion suc­cess­ful­ly to col­lege life. The pro­gram works with Blumke’s orga­ni­za­tion, Stu­dent Vet­er­ans of Amer­i­ca, to estab­lish pro­grams at schools with vet­er­an pop­u­la­tions, he said. 

VA Sec­re­tary Eric K. Shin­se­ki under­stands the GI Bill is a great ben­e­fit and believes it’s great that many vet­er­ans are tak­ing advan­tage of it, Wal­coff said. “But the whole pur­pose of going to school is the idea that you’ll stay and grad­u­ate,” he added, “and then use your degree to get a good job.” 

As the pan­el had dis­cussed, he said, return­ing from a wartime mil­i­tary envi­ron­ment may be the biggest obsta­cle vet­er­ans face to suc­ceed­ing in col­lege, espe­cial­ly those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

“Com­ing from that envi­ron­ment and then going to a uni­ver­si­ty with a bunch of 18-year-olds who just got out of high school and are all excit­ed at being able to drink beer, that’s a tough tran­si­tion,” Wal­coff said. 

VA’s pro­gram is struc­tured to help vet­er­ans nav­i­gate school bureau­cra­cies, and also to pro­vide vet­er­an coun­selors who share some of the vet­er­an-stu­dents’ expe­ri­ences. Vet Suc­cess on Cam­pus is in place at sev­en uni­ver­si­ties and two com­mu­ni­ty colleges. 

“The pro­gram has been very suc­cess­ful,” Wal­coff said. “We are look­ing at putting funds in future bud­gets to be able to expand this program.” 

Mullen told the sto­ry of one Iraq vet­er­an stu­dent attend­ing a com­mu­ni­ty col­lege in Texas who worked his way from a 1.5 grade point aver­age to a 4.0, and then was recruit­ed by Colum­bia University. 

“They’re look­ing for respon­si­ble, mature lead­ers … from com­mu­ni­ty col­leges to four-year col­leges through­out the coun­try,” he said. “There’s tremen­dous oppor­tu­ni­ty here.” 

Source:
U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

Face­book and/or on Twit­ter

Team GlobDef

Team GlobDef

Seit 2001 ist GlobalDefence.net im Internet unterwegs, um mit eigenen Analysen, interessanten Kooperationen und umfassenden Informationen für einen spannenden Überblick der Weltlage zu sorgen. GlobalDefenc.net war dabei die erste deutschsprachige Internetseite, die mit dem Schwerpunkt Sicherheitspolitik außerhalb von Hochschulen oder Instituten aufgetreten ist.

Alle Beiträge ansehen von Team GlobDef →