With shifts in wars and changes to the GI Bill, veterans have the opportunity to return to school.
However, an increase in student-veteran enrollment may leave colleges and universities unprepared for the adaptations and support they will require. Many veterans struggle to transition into civilian life but face unique challenges when returning to school. Without support from college and university programs, graduation may seem like an impossible task for student-veterans.
At Southern Miss, veterans returning to school can find assistance at the Center for Military Veterans, Service Members and Families. The Center’s mission is to provide an education support program for military veterans, service members, dependents and survivors. Leadership members, such as Veteran Outreach Coordinator Michael McGee, work hard to support student-veterans through the different challenges that may arise.
“There are many challenges our student-veterans may face,” McGee said, “Some include age and experience differences, starting school after years away from school and making connections to others. Veterans create friendships differently. It is often hard for student-veterans to find these strong relationships.”
Without special support from programs like the Center for Military Veterans, Service Members and Families, student-veterans are more likely to fall behind. Steven Welch is the VetSuccess on-campus counselor and works diligently to inform student-veterans of the benefits and services available.
“Our student-veterans are learning to coexist with cultures, values, and norms different from those of the military, and they need assistance in finding new career paths,” Welch said. “My job consists of working with two programs: the Chapter 31 program, which is Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment, and the Chapter 36 program, which is Career and Educational Counseling.”
The Chapter 31 program works with veterans who have service-connected disabilities and wish to return to work. The program provides personalized counseling and support to guide student-veterans to their career path and achieve their goals. Educational and career counseling are services provided under the Chapter 36 program. These services include Academic Coaching as well as Benefits Coaching.
“At the University of Southern Mississippi, we recognize the significant sacrifices of our student-veterans,” Welch said. “This is why we are dedicated to providing the support and guidance they need to excel in the classroom as well as in their life experience at the University of Southern Mississippi.”
Although the Center services student-veterans, current service members look to programs such as these to assist a work-education balance. Military Science Instructor Master Sgt. Richard Smith completed higher education while being a full-time Army member. The biggest challenge Smith faced was time management. With responsibilities such as children, sports and his marriage, returning to school kept his hands busy.
“I have some veteran friends who are out of the Army and went back to school full time, and they do have some different struggles. One main struggle attending an actual school versus online is fitting in,” Smith said. “Most veterans are a little older than the average college student. This can create a disconnect due to age, experience, some people don’t like the military, and veterans like myself have kids older than college-age students. In short, veterans face some similar roadblocks that the average student faces, and they also battle things that only veterans face.”
The Center for Military Veterans, Service Members and Families and other similar programs work closely with student-veterans to achieve their academic and career goals. It also provides financial relief to those who wish to return to school. USM Military Scholarships as well as National Military Scholarships are offered and can be found on the Center’s web site. The USM Financial Aid office also provides federal aid programs, Pell Grants and student loans for eligible students who complete their FAFSA.
The Center is available to anyone with questions regarding scholarships, employment, VA benefits and personal development. Questions can be emailed to Veteran Outreach Coordinator Michael McGee at M.A.McGee@usm.edu or through a direct call to the Center at 601.264.4629.