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As Veteran Enrollment Increases, so do Veteran’s Programs at Local Colleges

Missouri has been named one of the top ten states for enrolling veterans in post-secondary education. KSMU’s Melanie Foehrweiser looks into some of the programs these institutions are offering to veterans in the Ozarks.

According to a release from the Missouri Department of Higher Education, the number of veterans receiving education benefits in the state increased by more than four thousand between 2010 and 2011. That makes Missouri ninth in growth of veteran enrollment.

To help these veterans succeed, MSU’s Springfield and West Plains campuses have created the “Veteran Incentive Program,” or VIP. Mark White, Coordinator of VIP at the West Plains campus says that the program encourages veterans to go to college and receive degrees that will allow them to compete in the job market.  But that’s not all, he says.

 

“We’re prepared to counsel within our means, and if something needs to go beyond our means of counseling then we will help them seek counseling outside of the campus, in the community or through VA,” he said.

The VIP center also offers a tutor who is available 25 hours a week. White, along with the other staff members, are available to help students with whatever they may need, whether it be academic, financial, or personal. 

The Springfield and West Plains campuses both offer veterans a lounge where they can study, or even just drop in for a cup of coffee. There, the veterans build lasting, trusting relationships that White says are very important.

“We consider them just a part of the family. The camaraderie that is developed through the use of the center, and the veterans learning who the other vets on campus are. So it really in a sense is very much like a family situation,” says White

Jenifer Kautzman is the assistant Registrar and Coordinator of Veteran Student Services at the Springfield MSU campus.  She says both campuses offer the same services as far as counseling and academic help. But another important function of the office is to serve as an advocate for veterans.

“So if a student has an issue, and they’re not sure which office to go to or who to contact, we can be their main point of contact here, and either point them in the right direction or take them to the office that they need to go to,” Kautzman says.

Kautzman and her department also help create policies for the university that are veteran-friendly. 

“For instance, we just got passed a new policy at Missouri State that will take effect for the spring 2013 registration period, but…it’ll happen this upcoming fall, and it’s called priority registration,” says Kautzman.

That means veterans will have the same priority registration that honors students and athletes are given to get the classes they need and use the GI Bill more effectively. This fall, the Springfield campus will offer its first class specifically to help veterans transition from military to civilian life. 

Kautzman also keeps a list of places in the community that offer discounts or special services for veterans. 

The VIP program began in 2010, but even before it started, MSU was experiencing an increase in veteran enrollment.

“Between 2009 and 2010, we had a 49% increase in the number of student [veterans], and every single semester since then we’ve had an additional increase. For instance from just this past fall…from fall 2011 to spring 2012 we had an 11% increase,” Kautzman said.

Kautzman also encourages any veterans on campus who aren’t currently receiving education benefits to stop by the Veteran Student Services Office to see if there is anything the staff can do for them.

Meanwhile, over at Ozarks Technical Community College, Dennis Peters is the VA Certifying Official.  He says that OTC offers counseling and advising, as well as a Veteran’s club through its Student Government Association. But like White and Kautzman, Peters says his job includes a variety of services.

“And I’m in constant conversation with the [the veterans]. I have an open door policy and they can come in and ask questions anytime I’m here,” Peters says.

OTC also offers an English 101 class specifically for veterans, which allows them to share their views on topics with people who have had similar experiences. Peters says OTC hopes to offer other veteran specific classes in the future.

Peters certified close to 500 veterans this semester at OTC.  Kautzman says there are approximately 600 veterans, as well as 130 dependents of veterans receiving education benefits on the Springfield campus, and up to 150 veterans and their dependents receiving benefits on the West Plains campus.

The VIP program at MSU is funded by a grant from the Department of Education.

For KSMU News, I’m Melanie Foehrweiser.