Five million post-9/11 veterans will transition out of the service to civilian life by 2020 (American Council on Education, 2014) and there will be 21.3 million veterans nationwide, (U.S. Census Bureau, 2014). Our veterans are a measurable and significant special population. The large number of returning veterans will shape the trajectory of our nation’s future through their continued service as citizens in the same ways that returning veterans dramatically reshaped the United States demographically and educationally when they returned after WWII. The surging wave of veterans’ transitions ahead can be captured in the words of baseball’s great Yogi Bera, “It's déjà vu… all over again!”
The purpose of this article is to explain the specific importance of support for Veterans’ Resource Centers and trained counseling services for needy veterans on our community college campuses. To explain this, let’s focus on California Community College needs as the model, since California’s Community Colleges exemplify the national perspective. Veterans’ Resource Centers are urgently needed on community college campuses nationwide because a properly supported VRC makes a measurable difference in the success of our veterans on campus and throughout life.
The Veterans’ Caucus of the Community College League of California
The CCLC Veteran’s Caucus is a rapidly growing affiliate of the Community College League of California. The Caucus represents the thousands of trustees and CEOs in the California Community Colleges. The California Community College System is the largest higher education system in the nation, serving over 2.1 million students through 113 colleges and California Community Colleges serve more than 60 percent of all veterans in California higher education. California reports 1,893,539 veterans. (Key Facts, 2017)
The Time is Here and the Need is Clear
With the largest enrollment of veterans in the nation, California’s community colleges are often the veteran’s first entry point into higher education or specific workforce training. Our schools help large numbers of veterans take their first, tentative steps towards the American workforce after discharge.
The U.S. Department of Education reports that 45.9 percent of our vets were between the ages of 24-29 at initial post-secondary enrollment. This large percentage of our ex-military are entering college for the first time after military discharge.(Student Veterans of America, 2014)
In a national study report, The Peer Review finds 43 percent of students with military experience attend public two year institutions, 21 percent attend four year institutions and 12 percent are enrolled in private nonprofit and for-profit institutions respectively (O'Herrin, 2011).
For these reasons, the CCLC Veteran’s Caucus is leading statewide and national efforts to provide Veterans Resource Centers on all community college campuses and to provide funding for veterans’ counselors at all community colleges.
Special Staff to Serve the Special Needs of Our Veterans.
In August of 2015, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 4.3 million veterans nationally had a service connected disability. Veterans’ challenges include all manner of medical and physical issues, post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, aggression towards others, and suicide (Luskin, 2015). Without special funding, many colleges are not able to hire the services coordinators, counselors, and specialists to effectively and appropriately address these and other special needs of student veterans.
Remediation for College Success.
Because so many veterans are entering postsecondary education for the first time, large numbers of them have had a significant time lapse since their last academic experience. Many need “remediation” or basic skills classes to prepare them to take college level courses leading to degrees, transfer credits or occupational certification. Fire Science, Criminal Justice, Business Administration, and Dental Hygiene are examples of the more than 200 career and technical programs offered by community colleges. Our student veterans often need academic help to prepare them to enter transfer credit courses (Caucus, 2017).
Transitioning from military to civilian life can be very difficult given the pronounced differences between life in the service and civilian lifestyle. Student success data shows that having resources to help assimilate veterans back into civilian life ensures better outcomes in student success. Improved transition assistance programs can identify the special needs of student veterans and maximize the use of appropriate resources and educational support services (Caucus, 2017).
Disabilities and Difficulties
Pew research reveals more than 27% of veterans who served before 9/11 have a wide range of disabilities or difficulties of varying severity. They include but are not limited to transitioning from military to civilian life, medical problems and emotional difficulty. These issues spiked to 44% among those who served in the years since the heinous Sept.11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The research also reveals that veterans who were commissioned officers and those who had graduated from college are more likely to have an easier time readjusting to their post-military life than enlisted personnel and those who are high school graduates (Pew Research Center.) In these difficult situations, Disabled Programs & Services Departments (DSPS) also play an important role when they provide necessary professional counseling.
Existing and Proposed Legislation
There is now state and federal legislation proposed to provide Community Colleges with grant funding to create Veterans’ Resource Centers. The presence of VRCs recognizes the unique challenges veterans face when transitioning out of the military into today’s civilian life. Through legislation, the government and institutions of higher education create equal opportunity for student success among our vets despite pre-existing obstacles. By providing specialized resources, a clear message is sent to our veterans that we value them and their service to us and understand that investing in them can produce large returns for our society as they enter the skilled workforce and contribute by using the professional development and job training acquired through higher education.
California Assembly Bill 2494, the Veterans Resource Centers Grant Program was introduced in February 2016 by assembly member Roger Hernández and coauthored by assembly members Alejo, Brown, Gonzalez, Irwin and Mathis. This bill establishes a grants program to enable community colleges with Veterans’ Resource Centers, or those intending to have Veterans’ Resource Centers, to provide a range of resources to student veterans and students who are active duty members of the U.S. Armed Forces. This bill would help establish the Veterans’ Resource Centers Grants program.
The Veteran Education Empowerment Act, spearheaded by Montana’s Senator John Tester, “amends the Higher Education Act of 1965 to require the Secretary of Education to award 30 four-year grants to institutions of higher education to establish, maintain and improve Veterans Student Centers” (Tester, 2015). The bill distinctively defines “Veterans Student Center” as a dedicated space on campus that provides veterans and Armed Forces members with meeting space for themselves, dependents and veterans in the community. “This space also provides a centralized office for student veteran services including comprehensive academic services” (Tester, 2015). This is an excellent beginning, however, with 113 colleges in California and 1150 community colleges throughout our nation the scope of this initiative is very limited.
In Washington D.C., during the annual legislative seminar of the American Association of Community College Trustees, (ACCT), the Veterans Caucus leadership (CCLC) recently held meetings with Erin Snow, Staff Director for the U.S. House of Representatives Veterans’ Affairs Committee and Eric Gardiner and David R. Shearman, professional staff members for the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. Additionally, the leadership team met with the Dr. Ron Maurer, Director, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and a number of others. There has been a start in building the necessary networking required to move these initiatives moving forward.
Larry Kennedy, Co-Chair for California Community College Trustees, and Dr. Jannett Jackson, Co-Chairs for California Community College CEO’s are Co-Chairs leading the CCLC Veteran’s Caucus efforts. President Noah Brown of the American Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT), President Walter Bumphus of the American Association of Community Colleges, (AACC), President Larry Galizio of the CCLC and Chancellor Eloy Oakley, California Community Colleges, are examples of the important supporters involved in building the extensive network necessary for advocacy.
Research and experience confirms that having a place to gather on campus coupled with access to specialized counseling services specifically targeted for veterans’ needs is central to the success of many veterans. The number of Veterans’ Centers on campus is growing. The time is here and the need is clear.
Bernard Luskin, Ed.D., LMFT, Chancellor, Ventura County Community College District; Larry Kennedy, Co-Chair, CCLC Veterans Caucus, and VCCCD Trustee representing trustees, and Dr. Jannett Jackson, Ph.D., Co-Chair, CCLC Veterans Caucus, representing CEOs is Chancellor, Chabot Los Positas Community College District.
Thanks to: Beth Shepherd, Andrea Rambo, Rick Post, JD, Blair Gilbertson, John Cooney, Toni Luskin, PhD, Patti Blair, Jannett Jackson, PhD
Special thanks to: Assembly member Jacqui Irwin for her input in providing guidance and leadership in California.
American Council on Education. (2014). Higher Ed Spotlight: Undergraduate Student Veterans.
Caucus, C. C. (2017). Legislative Priorities. California.
District, V. C. (2016). Veterans Statistics and Quick Facts. Ventura.
Key Facts. (2017). Retrieved February 22, 2017, from California Community College State Chancellor's Office: http://californiacommunitycolleges.cccco.edu/policyinaction/keyfacts.aspx
Luskin, B. (2015, February 08). Understanding PTSD, TBI, Suicide and Student Veteran Success. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-media-psychology-effect/201502/understanding-ptsd-tbi-suicide-and-student-veteran-success
O'Herrin, E. (2011). Enhancing Veterans Success in Higher Education. (S. J. Carey, Ed.) Peer Review, 13(1). Retrieved February 22, 2017, from https://www.aacu.org/publications-research/periodicals/enhancing-veteran-success-higher-education
Student Veterans of America. (2014). Million Records Project. Washington DC: Student Veterans of America.
Tester, S. J. (2015). Veteran Education Empowerment Act
The Difficult Transition from Military to Civilian Life, Pew Research Center, 2011