College Rolls Out Red Carpet For Veterans

An apple, books and money.

Officials at San Diego State University are hoping that generous benefits in a new GI Bill will bring vets to campus. AquaColor/iStockphoto.com hide caption

itoggle caption AquaColor/iStockphoto.com

San Diego State University is courting veterans with the same vigor some colleges reserve for athletes. University officials are hoping that generous benefits in a new GI Bill — which goes into effect Aug. 1 — will bring vets to campus.

Military experts say it's the best education bill since World War II. Among other things, the new GI Bill increases the amount of money vets can use for school. Under the bill, vets can get their full tuition and fees paid — payments were previously capped at a monthly maximum rate — as well as a housing stipend and money for books and supplies.

San Diego State wants to be vets' school of choice. Thanks in part to nearby Camp Pendleton, the city is home to the nation's largest military community.

So the school is marketing to military personnel. There's a Web page specifically for vets on the school's Web site. Military personnel also get priority for classes. And there are plans for on-campus upgrades, including an updated lounge, which currently sits empty. In a few weeks, it will have a couple of recliners, a few desks, a TV and maybe an Xbox, according to Nathaniel Donnelly. Donnelly, a former Marine, is a senior who also works as the school's assistant veterans coordinator.

"The veterans on campus really don't have a place to study, hang out, have lunch, watch TV," Donnelly says. "So this room here that will be finished really soon will provide an atmosphere where they can relax, re-create the camaraderie that they had in the military."

More than 800 military vets are enrolled at San Diego State. That's less than 1 percent of the student body. But Donnelly expects the new GI Bill to increase the military population.

"We expect those numbers to skyrocket. They are going to get paid a lot more to go to school," Donnelly says.

Terry Howell, managing editor at Military.com, says the expanded GI Bill will push other schools to follow San Diego State's lead.

"Whenever you increase a government fund to help somebody to go to school, that student is going to be more attractive to school, but for the most part, it is a true desire to serve those who have sacrificed and served the nation," Howell says.

James Kitchen, vice president for student affairs at San Diego State, says that's a generational change in attitude. Kitchen is a Vietnam vet.

"When I came home from the war, we weren't embraced like the men and women are today. I'm not jealous about it. It was just the reality of life. And I was bitter for many, many, many years," Kitchen says. "But at the same time, I look at the needs of the young men and women coming out of Afghanistan and Iraq, and I just woke up one day and said that these young men and women need all the help and support that they can get."

But, Kitchen says, the college has a lot of homework to do when it comes to embracing the unique challenges of vets.

"You come from a situation where you have been in war. There may be a disability, there may not be. There may be psychological counseling needs, there may not be," Kitchen says. "The more you have, the more difficult it will be on the staff, but we will figure out a way to make it work."

The university is currently kicking off a fundraising campaign for scholarships. Some of the money will also fund perks like the military student lounge, and a project to convert a frat house to apartments for vets.

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