Transitioning From The War Zone To Campus

February 12, 2009

One benefit that our Troops receive for their military service is educational benefits. The transition from the structure of the military to the college environment can be difficult for some veterans. Recently a new program was launched that is geared to ease the transition, at Cleveland State University in Ohio. The program is open to only veterans and assists them in easing into the college environment, instead of becoming overwhelmed and possibly dropping out. The idea for the program was born in 2006 after creator of the program, John Schupp, who is a Chemistry professor, received a call from one of his students who was having difficulties with the adjustment.

“Listening to her talk about her experiences in Kosovo, then thinking about her having to listen to a teacher and freshmen students discuss their issues and trying to make that kind of adjustment … I thought to myself that this is a problem that’s going to happen time and time again, and I wanted to know what can I do about it,” he said.1

After giving it some thought, Schupp began doing research about veteran’s educational benefits, such as the Montgomery GI bill and speaking with the local and state Veteras Affairs offices. What he found out shocked him. He learned that while these benefits were very appealing to recruits, fewer than 10 percent of veterans ever take advantage of the benefits. Part of his research included speaking with Vietnam and Gulf War veterans and asking them the reason that they didn’t use their GI bill. Most of them confided that they had a difficult time concentrating in class.

“So, my experiment was to change the environment,” he said. “It’s either the building or the people, so let me take the civilians out of the equation.”2

He spoke with university officials and convinced them to allow him to conduct a test class. Last spring, a pilot group of 14 chemistry students took the first exam. According the Schupp, the results were remarkable. The learning environment in the program is more comfortable, with the classes being veteran only. The classes are much smaller. Best of all, the students are all veterans, so everyone in the class understands each other and the issues that come with being a veteran.

“It wasn’t just circling or matching the answers,” Schupp said. “They actually had to know and write out the answers. They handed it in - no one tore it up or walked out … and when I graded them, they had a higher average than my civilian classes.”3

According to Schupp, because the classes are composed of entirely veteran’s, many feel comfortable opening up and talking about their military experiences. Almost like a mini-counseling session. According to Schupp, students don’t take all of their classes as veterans only classes. The first semester, students are offered 12 credit hours of veterans only classes, then 9 credit hours the next semester. Full time students would still have to take 3 credit hours in a civilian class. That way, instead of being thrown head first into the civilian environment, the students are eased into the campus life, setting them up for success instead of failure. Since the program began, Universities, other colleges and Veterans Affairs systems has indicated interest in the program. So far, 23 universities and colleges are considering offering similar programs.

The program at Cleveland State University appears to be successful. Out of the 14 original students, 10 went on to summer semester. The following fall, 25 veterans enrolled and in the current spring semester, there are 41 veterans enrolled in the program.4

I think this is a fantastic idea and a way to slowly ease veterans into civilian college courses. It’s great that Professor Schupp has taken enough interest in the success of our veterans that he took the time to create this program and convince University officials to allow him to give it a test run. Hopefully we’ll see more colleges adapting this program for our veterans.

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