GI Bill, Personalized Approach Best for Military Veterans Returning to College

Heather Watson
Seventy-two years after its inception, the GI Bill is still going strong at colleges across the nation. But while the GI Bill might help veterans get their foot in the door toward a degree in higher education, it’s up to colleges and universities to implement services for veterans to ensure that the transition from service to our country to scholarly pursuits goes smoothly. At Waubonsee Community College, offering personalized service to veterans is just one way we thank our veterans for all they’ve sacrificed for our freedom.

Originally passed as the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the updated federal veteran’s education law, now known as the Post-9/11 GI Bill, is the largest investment in veteran’s education since World War II. Paying in-state tuition rates, providing a living allowance and a stipend towards books and supplies has resulted in more than 1.5 million military veterans and their families using this benefit in pursuit of post-secondary education and career training. Veterans who have served at least 90 days of active service after September 11, 2001, or who have served 30 days and were discharged due to a service-connected injury or illness may also be eligible to transfer their earned benefit to their families.

Student veterans are a diverse population with leadership skills, global experience, discipline and focus who add tremendous value to the classroom. However, it’s no secret that the transition from military life to college life can be challenging for student veterans. Here at Waubonsee, we pride ourselves on our “one stop” personalized services that help to smooth this transition. We have a streamlined admissions process, a strong academic support system and close partnerships with community resources to ensure the success of our student veterans.

All veterans who are interested in pursuing a degree or certificate at Waubonsee begin by meeting with me, the Transfer/Veterans Advisor. I provide an individualized orientation that covers such topics as: applying for education benefits, completing admissions paperwork, transferring prior college credit and credit awarded for military experience, academic planning, registration for classes and discussing college and community resources. Two Financial Aid Advisors/Veterans Administration (VA) School Certifying Officials assist with the financial aid application process and any VA billing or payment issues a student may encounter.

Meeting academic expectations while balancing family or job responsibilities, coping with military related injuries and finding new peers outside the military structure can be a daunting task. Waubonsee offers services to address these challenges. Where relevant, we can refer them to accommodations and support through the Access Center for Disability Resources. We also have other services to assist first-generation students succeed in college through academic planning, individualized tutoring, financial aid and scholarship information, transfer options and guidance with life skills. Academic assistance is also offered at no cost through the Tutoring Center/Skills Lab. For those who are seeking employment, our Career Development Center can help convert military experience into skills needed for civilian employment.

Involvement in campus organizations can enhance student success by aiding as a support network. Being around peers with similar experiences is comforting, and joining the Waubonsee Veterans Club provides a comradeship many miss after leaving the military. Through the annual Veterans Day Observance Ceremony, community service projects, social activities and monthly meetings, members continue to serve their community while working as a team to connect with fellow student veterans.

Local community veteran organizations are also instrumental in providing support services to our student veterans. The DuPage County Vet Center provides counseling services to combat veterans and their families, as well as training sessions and workshops to Waubonsee staff and students. For VA claim and benefit services, each county has a Veterans Assistance Commission which aids veterans of all eras to access local, state and federal benefits they have earned.

At Waubonsee, we take pride in removing the obstacles student veterans may face while using their GI Bill. Our mission is to provide service members with the tools necessary to meet their educational goals.

Heather Watson is the Transfer/Veterans Advisor at Waubonsee Community College.