As veteran enrollment in post-secondary education rises, new programs under development

EL PASO, Texas - (Nov. 2012 story)Danny Antunez is a first year student at The University of Texas, El Paso.

Antunez is studying criminal justice, inspired by his four years of service in the Marine Corps. 

During his time in the military, Antunez was sent to Iraq and Afghanistan. 

"I got out to try and, you know, get with society," Antunez said.

It's a task more difficult than it sounds, he added.

"I know a lot of people that have issues with getting back to the civilian life," Antunez said.

According to both UTEP and El Paso Community College, the number of student veterans is on the rise as more service members head home from overseas. Additionally, Fort Bliss is rapidly expanding.

As a result, both schools are working to carry the increasing enrollment rates through to graduation.

At the University of Arizona, courses known as "SERV" classes are offered.

SERV stands for "Supportive Education for Returning Veterans."

The cohort program consists of four courses, open only to veterans. Three are offered the first semester of a student veteran's coursework, and one more class is offered in the second semester.

The classes are worth three credits each, and are applicable to general education requirements for graduation.

"The overall goal is to foster a successful transition from the military to higher education, and in so doing, increase retention and graduation rates," said Cody Nicholls, University of Arizona's assistant dean of students for the VETS program, in a statement to ABC-7.

According to Nicholls, the courses have received positive feedback and produced a retention rate of more than 90 percent.

"Some active military may not have been in post secondary education for a while, so they do need those additional classes to kind of help them adjust," EPCC Veteran's Affairs Director Raul Lerma said.

Lerma said EPCC is considering several ways to keep veterans in school.

"There's been discussion. We've been working on programs like that, kind of transitional classes for our vets. There's been discussion of a VA center for our students. We just recently received some funding."

That funding, he hopes, can be used to help facilitate degree completion among active service members and veterans alike. 

Antunez recalled starting college, and noted how courses like those offered at UA may be effective.

"I started out with crowd issues, or getting anxiety, things like that. So I think it would probably help," he said.

He also admitted the courses may not be for everyone. Some may find the classes to be a waste of school time, or find the classes unnecessary.

UTEP is also considering an increase in veterans' resources.

They currently offer a Military Services Center to students. There, veterans are offered assistance with financial aid and degree planning.

According to Chris Markin, a Military Services Center spokesperson, UTEP is also looking into a training program for faculty and staff. The program, which Markin said is used in other Universities in Texas, would help service members assimilate more easily.

For now, Antunez said the services center is just what he needs.

"They make the transition from the military to going to school, they make it, easier."

(Nov. 2012 story)

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