Veteran enrollment increasing at colleges nationwide

Col. Rocky J. Chavez, USMC retired, founding UCSC Vice Chancellor Harold Hyde, and Chancellor George Blumenthal (photo by Dan White)

Across the nation, veteran enrollment has surged in colleges and universities because of veterans returning home with dreams of furthering their education.

Thousands are taking advantages of the U.S. Department of Defense's tuition subsidies for military personnel. According to the January 11 issue of Business Week, taxpayers in the year ending in the fall of 2008 paid $474 million in college tuition costs for 400,000 active-duty personnel, three times more than in 1998.

The new post-September 11 GI Bill dramatically increases educational incentives. To qualify for full tuition remission under the bill, veterans must have been on active duty post 9/11 for 36 months.

Colonel Bucky Peterson, a retired Marine career officer who leads Troops to College, said the recent flood of veterans into college campuses brings to mind the upsurge in veteran enrollment after World War II, when hundreds of thousands of servicemen started new lives by pursuing college degrees.

One of those servicemen was Harold Hyde, who served as an infantryman in Europe and went on to serve as a UCSC vice chancellor. Hyde was instrumental in the early development of UCSC including the building of the first colleges, residence halls, and administration buildings. Chancellor George Blumenthal honored Hyde at UCSC's second annual Memorial Day Ceremony on May 26 by presenting him with an American flag.

But the GI Bill alone is not enough to help veterans adjust smoothly to college life.

Joe Cresalia, 27, who served in the Marines in Kuwait and Iraq, was out of the military for two full years before transferring to UCSC in the spring of 2009. He had some time to adjust to civilian life before entering the campus.

But he said that many other vets at UCSC are just out of military service. In such cases, a peer support network is especially important, he said.

"It can be tricky," Cresalia said. "Guys who recently came back might be experiencing culture shock."

Cresalia said he was surprised by the "tight" veterans community and supportive students at UCSC.

"A lot of them are curious," he said.