Community Colleges and Returning Vets

04/03/2013 06:17 pm ET | Updated Jun 03, 2013

As the war in Afghanistan winds down, thousands of servicemen and women will return home to a country that is still in the early stages of economic recovery. Helping these warriors transition to civilian life needs to be our number one priority.

Community colleges have a long history of working with vets. This assistance goes well beyond merely processing the paper work to get them their educational benefits under the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

Many community colleges operate an office of veterans' affairs that provide everything from career counseling and resume writing to access to local businesses for job placement. Tuition discounts, tuition without residency requirements and fee-waived applications are other important benefits instituted by community colleges on behalf of vets.

Because tuition at these schools is lower than at four year institutions, vets often have 100 percent of their educational expenses covered. In some cases, they also receive stipends for housing and books. Since the average age of a vet attending community colleges is 25, these schools also have extensive experience working with non-traditional students.

Providing these services have earned many community colleges the designation of being "military friendly" by GI Jobs magazine, a free publication that is distributed on military bases.

Dan Fazio, Managing Editor ofGI Jobs noted:

Vets gravitate to community colleges because of the variety of educational opportunities they offer. To make up for lost times, some vets may not want an associate's or bachelor's degree and opt instead for a certificate program that enables them to pursue careers as a plumber, EMT technician, electrician, welder or machinist. Community colleges can fast track a vet into a new career in a matter of months.

At Ivy Tech in Indiana, we believe that helping veterans is an important part of our mission to provide seamless access to educational attainment. We are proud to be designated a "military friendly" school.

There are more than 5,000 vets currently enrolled at Ivy Tech. Vets need someone to guide them through the maze of VA benefits. They are accustomed to having structure in their lives and look to institutions like ours to provide it. Ivy Tech has a group of people dedicated to helping them including a Central Administration VA liaison.

When our vets return home, they want to reacclimatize themselves with their family and friends rather than pack up and move to another city to go to school. Community colleges are a vital resource. That is why it is so critically important in the months ahead that community colleges increase their outreach to vets and make sure that these brave men and women get the education they need and the jobs they deserve.