MONTPELIER, Vt. – Colleges and universities across the state are trying to ease the transition to life as a student for Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans by offering special programs and workshops tailored to their experiences.
The various programs help veterans find the benefits they’re entitled to, hire student counselors who are veterans, and ensure that faculty members recognize the special challenges the new students might face.
“They come with some pretty intense life experiences,” said Deborah Boutin, a spokeswoman for Johnson State College, which just received a $10,000 grant from the private Vermont Community Foundation to help implement a series of programs aimed at veterans. The school had about 80 veterans in its student body of 1,800 during the spring semester.
The Community College of Vermont, which has campuses across the state, is holding two workshops at its Winooski headquarters, one in July and the other in August, for military personnel and their dependents. There, they can apply for military education benefits and federal financial aid.
The University of Vermont is also working with returning veterans.
Johnson State is home to an outpost of a South Burlington veterans’ center. The school is also planning to revamp its admissions process for military students, create special educational materials for them and sponsor a military student club.
Johnson will also be working with the Community College of Vermont to offer for-credit combat-to-classroom courses to help military students adjust to college and to provide faculty training on working with military students.
Heather Weinstein, director of student support services at CCV, said they are educating faculty members about the challenges of working with vets. For example, a loud noise in class would cause most students to stop and look briefly, then return to their studies.
“For a veteran, if they hear a book fall on the floor, that loud noise that can trigger a really strong response — it’s a physical response, a mental response. They might not be able to regain that focus for the rest of the class,” she said. “I think for a teacher to have that awareness is really, really important.”
More than a decade after the country went to war following the 9/11 terror attacks, hundreds and possibly thousands of Vermont veterans have deployed to and returned from Iraq and Afghanistan. Many also want to go to school or get technical training.
They’re entitled to a variety of programs, including the Post-9/11 GI Bill.
Nationwide, more than 80 percent of military students who enroll in college drop out during their first year, according to statistics from Johnson State.
At Norwich University in Northfield, the nation’s oldest private military college, about 200 veterans are part of the 2,200-undergraduate student body. In 2009, Norwich says it was the first college in Vermont, and one of the first in the nation, to create a full-time veteran advocate position and an on-site Veterans’ Resource Center.