Ian Markert, 26, a student at Benedictine University in Lisle, Ill. Markert is a Marine veteran active in the university’s veterans student group. CNS photo/Karen Callaway

U.S. veterans drawn to Catholic universities

By  Liz O'Connor, Catholic News Service
  • February 9, 2014

LEVITTOWN, PA. - Catholic colleges and universities across the United States are attracting military veterans of recent wars with a combination of financial aid, individualized assistance and opportunities for peer support.

Many Catholic institutions participate in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Yellow Ribbon program, which helps close the gap between the tuition provided under the Post-9/11 GI Bill — usually the equivalent of in-state tuition at a state college or university — and the cost of a private institution. The college provides a specified number of students with a partial grant that is matched by the VA and, when those funds are combined with housing allowances and book stipends provided under the GI Bill, a fully eligible student finds most of his or her costs covered.

The Post-9/11 GI Bill, signed into law in 2008, expands on the Second World War-era GI Bill of Rights, providing education benefits for members of the military who have served on active duty for 90 or more days since Sept. 10, 2001. National Guard and Reserve members are also eligible to receive the same benefits.

Catholic colleges have seen their enrolment of veterans grow. At Canisius College, for example, a 4,500-student Jesuit school in Buffalo, N.Y., it has increased by some 300 per cent since 2007, while at the three-times-larger Jesuit-run Fordham University in New York City, veterans’ enrolment has grown tenfold in recent years. At the Benedictinerun St. Leo University, which has its main campus near Tampa, Fla., nearly 39 per cent of about 16,000 students are either active-duty military or military veterans.

At St. Leo, Jose Coll devotes half his time to his work as a professor of social work and half to working with current military and veterans on campus. He said St. Leo offers “an enormous amount of outreach” both to prospective and current students as well as to faculty and staff. Aside from the problems some face with posttraumatic stress and traumatic brain injury, “they’re all adults, and they have military experience, but they still have to figure out what they want to be when they grow up,” Coll said.

Advisers at several schools spoke of the difficulties veterans face in making the transition from the very structured environment of the military to the world of academia where they are free to make their own good or bad decisions. Andrew Overfield, a retired Army officer, is associate director of admissions with responsibilities for co-ordinating services to veterans at Canisius.

“A lot of times what I do is listen,” he said, making himself available to help these students with various issues and problems. “Helping them with time management is critical,” he said, and the college tutoring centre provides additional assistance with that.

Harry Damerow is unlike most veterans in school; he’s not in his mid-20s but is 47 and retired after 24 years in the Marine Corps and the Army. After his graduation in December from Seton Hill College near Greensburg, Pa., he planned to continue there with studies for teacher certification. He tells his younger counterparts they have to think of college as their job.

“It’s your responsibility to be there. Hard-working Americans are paying taxes for me to go to school and deserve my best effort,” said Damerow. Ian Markert, 26,lives in Lisle, Ill., near Chicago, where Benedictine University is located. A Marine veteran majoring in international business and economics, Markert is active in the veterans’ student group at Benedictine. He said he was attracted by the school’s relatively small size, about 3,000 students, and the small class size, which permits one-to-one interaction with faculty and staff. He agreed that one of the most difficult transitions from military to academic life was having to make one’s own decisions and adapting to the culture of a particular school. Having the support of other veterans is a real help.

“The traditional student population doesn’t understand why you do what you do.”

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