Veterans Head to College in Record Numbers

carrying back care package

The Post-9/11 GI Bill is bringing student veterans to campuses in record numbers, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reports.

That certainly is the case at Oklahoma colleges and universities. With the revamped GI Bill, veteran enrollment numbers have increased dramatically, according to the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education.

Recognizing that veterans are nontraditional students who often have special needs and circumstances, higher education officials are reaching out to them through multiple programs and services.

"We're proud to serve our veterans any way we can," said Regent Toney Stricklin, of Lawton.

Stricklin said Oklahoma does two things particularly well.

The first is the National Guard Tuition Waiver program, which provides tuition waivers of about $2 million annually to actively serving National Guard members pursuing bachelor's degrees.

The other is the Heroes Promise scholarship, which is available to the children of Oklahoma veterans killed after Jan. 1, 2000, in the line of duty in any branch of the U.S. Armed Forces or who died after Jan. 1, 2000, as a result of an injury received while in the line of duty. They may sign up for the award up to the age of 21 regardless of family income.

"The importance of a college education (for military personnel) has grown over time," said Stricklin, a retired major general who earned his bachelor's degree at Cameron University in Lawton.

When he joined the Army, the thinking was officers should get a college education, he said. That evolved to officers should get an advanced degree.

By the late 1980s and early '90s, enlisted soldiers were seeing the value of bettering themselves through a college education whether they wanted a career in the military or elsewhere, he said.

Today, recruiters attract many people to serve by pointing to the GI Bill as a "very tangible benefit of being in the military," Stricklin said.

The Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education sponsors an annual Serving Student Veterans conference each year in November or December. The conference brings in nationally recognized speakers on a wide range of topics, such as mental health, faculty/staff awareness training, volunteer/support services for student veterans, academic services for student veterans and G.I. Bill benefits.

Stricklin said he urges veterans to attend the conference and voice their needs and wants.

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