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More Veterans Returning to the Classroom to Pursue College Degrees



By Catherine Groux
Posted November 08, 2012 04:00 PM

Many veterans are returning to the classroom to earn a college degree.
Many veterans are returning to the classroom to earn a college degree.
In October 2011, about 68% of high school graduates were enrolled in college with the goal of earning an associate's or bachelor's degree, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports. While this is a common path toward higher education, some individuals prefer to take time off between high school and college to join the military.

The U.S. Census Bureau reports that in 2009, there were approximately 1,088,460 active duty military members. Now, three years later, many of these individuals have left the military and decided to continue on their academic track by enrolling in college. 

Only 11 years ago, about 421,048 veterans signed up for education benefits after completing their service, USA Today reports. Last year, this number skyrocketed to 923,836. Individual schools have also seen this vast increase in veterans hoping to earn associate's or bachelor's degrees, including Borough of Manhattan Community College. In 2009, the school had only 157 veterans. Last year, this figure rose to more than 400.

USA Today reports that much of the growth of veterans returning to college can be traced back to the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which provides financial support for education and housing to veterans who gave at least 90 days of aggregate service after September 10, 2001. In fact, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs states that approximately 60% of service members who received federal education benefits in 2011 served after September 11.

As the number of veterans returning to college continues to grow, many schools are ensuring these students have the services they need to succeed. For example, some universities have created veterans groups, which provide students with the camaraderie and guidance they need after being away from the classroom for so long.

"A lot of us are loners," former Marine and current student Vincent Acevedo told USA Today. "When you get out of the military, you kind of don't know where you're at. That's what the veterans group is for, to let you know you're not alone."

In New Jersey, politicians have strived to help veterans by creating the Operation College Promise/Stockton College VETeach initiative, The Paramus Post reports. The initiative, which was signed into law last month, launched a 36-month teacher preparation program for veterans at The Richard Stockton College. Using this initiative, veterans can earn a bachelor's degree in education within the 36-month confines of the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

While the program is designed to help veterans pursue higher education, the college feels it will also boost the local economy, as the initiative will strive to train more educators for the high-demand science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. 

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