College Veterans Centers Guide Vets, Military Students

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – When Congress passed the Post-9/11 Veterans Education Assistance Act in 2007, it opened new avenues for veterans and soldiers on active duty. And with the legislation came a surge of new students into colleges.

“A lot of universities started popping up veterans affairs offices to assist the huge load of veterans who were going to take advantage of the post-Sept. 11 program,” says Rick Williams, manager of the Veterans Resource Center at Youngstown State University. “YSU is no different and we opened the Office of Veterans Affairs to assist those students with the  paperwork and red tape to get that program running.”

In the decade since the office was launched, YSU has guided veterans and military on active duty through their college years, allowing them to take advantage of what the university has to offer and to pave their way to success. 

The first GI Bill, enacted in 1944, provided veterans with resources that range from lower mortgage rates to college tuition. 

“The GI Bill at that time was very different from the one we have today,” Williams says. “It was responsible for getting this university off the ground. And a lot of the things that played a part in Youngstown’s boom at that time had to do with veterans coming back from the war, using their benefits at YSU, getting their degrees and going on to do great things.” 

The latest modification is the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which eliminates the 15-year window to use benefits and allows veterans to give their dependents up to 36 months of college education.

The $1.4 million YSU Veterans Resource Center has served students since 2014. At one time, 400 students were taking advantage of the assistance program. While fewer students are using the center now, Williams says it remains busy and has expanded services. 

“At that time, we helped them with their GI Bill paperwork and they got a few credits for being in the military and we offered some classes just for veteran students just to help them acclimate to academia,” he says. “Today, we do a whole lot more.” 

The building has a lounge with cable TV and seating for video games, a computer lab with free printing, a kitchenette with free snacks and bottled water, a study hall and ample room for students to work on projects.

Like YSU, other colleges are seeing veterans and active-duty members take advantage of the GI Bill and their VA benefits. Nicolette Fenlock, assistant director of student services at Kent State University Trumbull, says that campus is creating a veterans space.

“[The new VA space is] something we will have in place for fall 2019. It’s going to be a lounge type space and it’s probably going to be in our classroom-administration building,” she says. 

There also will be a resource area available to provide information about using veterans’ benefits, study skills, the VA and college success. 

“Our career adviser will put information out there,” Fenlock says. “I will spend time there myself along with an academic adviser just to meet with veterans in their own space where they are, talk to them and encourage them”

It is more of a commitment to improving the space for veterans and students on active duty, and making the space into something useful and helpful to them, Fenlock says. 

“To any person thinking that they’re ready to make that next step, I would just encourage them to walk through the doors,” she says. “Any time [student services] is open, someone is going to meet with them.” P

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.