Going to college on the G.I. Bill today


Good morning I’m Scott Cameron this is focus from Illinois Public Media.

Just over half of military veterans who use the G.I. Bill in recent years graduated that’s just slightly lower than the roughly sixty percent rate for the general population. That’s all according to a new report released last week based in part on data from the Veterans Administration. It is the first study ever done on that issue it also shows that many veterans take more time to finish their degree than other students a fact that’s not particularly surprising when you consider the challenges many veterans often face when they return from military service. Many colleges and universities have launched programs in recent years to make that transition a bit easier. The military offers support as well to talk about those in just a few minutes . If you are a recent veteran who’s enrolled in college after the military call tell us your story. The number is eight hundred two two two nine four five five. Again eight hundred two two two nine four five five there’s also a conversation on Twitter at Focus five eighty. Later in the hour. History repeats itself this time in Ukraine. We’ll get a reading list on the crisis in Crimea. But first the G.I. Bill and the transition from combat to classroom. Johnny Watts served in signals intelligence in the U.S. Army in Iraq. He graduates next month from the University of Illinois and joined me in the studio. Johnny you’re about to graduate with a degree in electrical engineering. How did you know that’s what you want to do.

Actually I didn’t. My boss and I were to later when I was in the army he was a graduate from West Point in aerospace engineering and so we’d often talks about his experiences in engineering and things he got to learn and so I was really interested in that but I wasn’t necessarily interested in aerospace with my job we got to do a lot of high tech equipment a lot of electronics and there are a lot of things I thought we could do this and make it better and so I was like well they have a really good alleged crimes in your program .

So I got here I thought I wanted to do communications. I took a class hated it. And so I took a series of classes and I finally found something that I realized around saw in a software yourself .

So you said that you know they had a pretty good engineering program here. Yes You know you want to come here specifically.

I knew I wanted to come in Illinois. I really wanted to come to this school because of the color of the caliber of the engineering program. But I applied to sie and sie you see as well.

OK Southern Illinois I’m from around SIE. So I really didn’t want to go there but I need to get away a little bit yeah just a little bit later however they don’t call away early you know when did you apply. I applied while I was in Iraq in two thousand and eight.

You know you are still in you’re still in the country are still in Iraq. Yeah.

Serving the time and we’re looking ahead at that point are ready to say hey do you think that you would have been able to to get this degree if you hadn’t served in the military for us I think for me personally coming from a very small school that didn’t have very high hopes for a lot of their students.

I don’t think I would have been very successful coming right out of high school to a school like this and it’s not even the idea to study I mean do you do you talk talking to your commanding officers and you know what his experience was.

So it wasn’t really anything I probably even would have thought about most of the. The instructors and guidance that we got at my school didn’t really talk much about schools outside of the local community college. But the most the biggest school that we ever heard about was sie and that’s because it was just down the street you know but yeah they didn’t really talk much about things I didn’t even know engineering was so so I had them being in the military you can open a door . Yeah absolutely. Is that why you went in the water. No I went to the military because I really didn’t know what I wanted to do but I know I didn’t want to be home doing nothing. So you know my parents my dad was an Air Force sisters an Air Force uncles and so I was you know well. They they want to kind of get some experience and kind of you know learn some things while I try to figure out where I want to go and what I want to do.

So coming out of the military then I’ve heard that the military offers a transition course for returning vets.

One person described it to us as death by Power and it is the way that I do agree.

How did the Army prepare you for the transition back to campus.

I don’t think they did and what was missing. Actually I don’t remember anything they talked about because I didn’t pay much attention. It was it was mostly just a checkbox to get you know done with the process there was the things I did find useful. We did talk a lot about the G.I. Bill a G.I. Bill benefits. So I had quite a bit of information on that. So you knew what you had a veil so you know a lot of stuff I had available. But as far as trying to help us identify what the type of difference is we’re going to see when we get out of the military and I remember them talking much about it and would you have hoped to see that I mean without some that would help you as a very I don’t know if that would have actually I don’t know if I would have paid much attention to it either because it’s one of those you have to see to believe it you know they might have told us and then when we saw it we followed him a little less surprised but not much hindsight maybe is a right you could even use over the time if you do then what you do now. Right so you know it would have been it would all have been useful after we saw it . So necessarily I don’t know if it would have necessarily useful to have.

OK Do you know I’m thinking about when when students get to college they often try to find other people like themselves people they can relate to as you move from an Army post to a college campus. Was that something you were thinking about.

It wasn’t anything that I made an effort to think about it wasn’t I just thought I have to find people like me. I’ve never really been any go find people to hang out with the type of person I came here with my wife and so she was my person to hang out with and her in a dog but I did find that once I got here it was difficult to find people that I really wanted to be around when I first got here I got involved with a couple of the engineering groups really great people and they really helped me get back into the rhythm of school but there was a I didn’t really get too involved with them mainly because there was such a big difference between the way I thought the way my experience of the things I talked about and what they all were interested in talked about and did so you know I’m picturing you’re sitting in class or work with other students often and small groups and what not and many of my imagine fresh out of high school I was it sort of an issue just finding things to to talk about sort of finding things to I mean you you’re right you’re coming from a very different experience you’re coming back.

Having served in the military for a number of years you’re here with your wife. What was that barrier I guess between you and them.

I think the biggest barrier was not them not knowing anything about the military or the lifestyle or the people or the branches or anything really. I’ve met very few that actually knew that there were veterans here on campus then and they thought of this as a you know they found out I was older than you know eighteen nineteen maybe even twenty.

You know what he doing here. So it makes you feel good. Yes Yes OK Well you know I’m not a traditional student and a lot of times I was in a lot of times when you have kids you know now I don’t know if I could really handle kids at this moment and trying to handle calculus.

But I didn’t remember what it was like to be eighteen and not really having experiences outside of your home and I think after being here and seeing the barrier between me and you know them in the military like they don’t know anything about that lifestyle. It made me think back a little bit about it when I was eighteen I didn’t know anything about it either and I knew kind of what my dad taught me and I was about it.

So and I can kind here get a little tiring I think from reading between a lion is answering so many questions at the same time did you sort of see like it was your responsibility is right where but you know if you want to try to help and understand where you are open about your experience and wanting to talk about that or was it a hard thing to do for me I was very often I know some of us have had much more traumatic experience than I have but for the most part if it wasn’t you know you know the one question everybody likes avoiders I you know have you ever shot so well.

I don’t talk about it. I do however love to tell you about my experiences the bad experience the people I’ve met things I liked things I really didn’t like a lot of people say you know how did you do it when you’re eighteen. I really believe that almost anybody can you can do it anybody can do is just a mental thing right. Can you tell yourself you have to because a lot of people say oh man I could never do that. I can never run six miles I could never rock march for twelve miles with you know a lot of weight on your back and say well yeah you could just see how they don’t want to come up in class. I mean service people I mean did you ever even feel maybe put on a spot at some point with you’re talking about a history class or something going on and I was very open with you know if we ever did in adoptions I was one of the things I said it was many just kind of get that out so that when you know a couple weeks and you know so you can come up and say hello. Yeah I don’t really mind. Let people know because if they have had people come up and ask questions either they were thinking about joining or they had family or friends who were asking about it and I didn’t know anyone else that will soon I’d love to talk to him and give him my perspective you know . Did you feel like you had an advantage over the younger students remain with coming with more experience a little more mature in that type of thing academically when I first got here and you know absolutely no one is ever well I hadn’t done anything academic related school related for six years so the last thing I’d touch was high school pre-calculus in two thousand and three two thousand and nine and Java man and I’m trying to learn all of that stuff. So for my first semester here I really didn’t feel like I had any advantage at all but when I got to the second semester I started to realize that after I got my grades for my first semester was really great.

I kind of felt that I did have a bit of an advantage and it was only in the sense that I knew what it was like to be out and do things that you didn’t really want to do all the time. So.

Play didn’t really like it I could get all my work done I had the determination even when I felt like this is not going to work.

I just keep at it keep moving and I think that was really my I don’t want to call it it vanished and then as for my various came from was there any sort of scratch was hard at the beginning and things got a little bit easier Was there anything that I was there a moment or was there anything that you could point to that help to make that transition something finding some of those friends something that the college had or the university offered that helped turn that corner a little bit.

So those are a couple things. Academically I I had the moral engineering program engineering program a program in the College of Engineering and they deal with under-represented students and so when I first got here. DEAN I’ve been through the dealer or him a lot. He really really did help me to kind of get get my feet under me when I was here first semester you know I got a C. on my first exam and some of the high school everything was really easy I didn’t really have to study is all the way through and if I got a B.S. because I knew I didn’t actually study it I just showed up as I will see how this goes. I put a lot of time until all my classes and I got like a seal my first exam and like a C. plus in another one of these in my first exams and I was. Then I make a mistake by coming here. Can I just kind of write and so I talk to him every now and then and he really helped me to kind of calm down and just look at it again and the professors were amazing as well. Academically is the moral engineering program a lot of the students that we’re in now as the ship couple engineering organizations I studied with them and kind of traded answers and talk with them a lot.

So they are finding some of those networks in sound like finding the people who could contribute and there are the dean is a part of the specific programs at the monitoring program that sort of helps is it does that just for veterans or is that no it’s actually for under-represented So Hispanics by anybody who are who they cater to they allow a lot of anybody to come and you know join the groups and study with people and then forming you know finding those that those groups to be a part of those you know to support you and so that made a big difference.

What what’s next for you know for me you know I’m headed to San Diego I’m going to be working with Russia. I think you’re working as a hardware into the room looking forward to that when you move in the mail.

So because the only way to get all of them.

Yeah we’re all wife’s is from Northern California and so you know she came here with me I’m so proud of me and says I’m like the fact that there’s no trees and so we’re going to go to beach yourself and three feet of snow that we got this winter hasn’t helped anyone.

Well good luck.

Iraq war veteran and soon to be Illinois graduate Johnny Watts He currently serves as president of Allied Veterans here on campus I talked with him yesterday here in our studios. If you’re a recent veteran and you made the transition from combat to campus give us a call tell us your story eight hundred two two two nine four five five is our number you can also drop us an e-mail will dash talk at Illinois dot edu or tweet us at Focus five eighty. Nicholas Osborne is assistant dean of students services and director of the veterans programs at the University of Illinois Urbana campus. He joins us now by phone from his office here and Nick welcome to focus. Thank you it’s good to talk to Johnny what you just heard there you know he talked about he first got to campus he struggled a little bit Academically I was sort of finding his his way here now of course he’s heading off to California is going to be a great job with a high tech company out there at the begin the show we referenced the report in the Student Veterans of America it shows that he had essentially you know roughly a little bit of a fifty fifty chance of graduating. What kinds of things what kind of support to make the difference for veterans like him when they get to campus here.

To great question and it’s a question that colleges and universities across the country and at conferences we’re all putting out on the table and I think one of the most important things is coming into a welcoming community. For all students but particularly for veterans who have had a break from being out of high school for a while and then coming in and often times having a sense of intimidation I haven’t taken a math class in years I haven’t written a paper in years that break of education can also manifests a lack of confidence and so I think that coming in and knowing that there is a central office available to them as well as peers that they can relate to and as Johnny touched on being nontraditional and having these very unique experiences that community peace is so fundamental in some leg and you could hear Weezer talk it made a big difference once he identified that peer group once you figure it out and gain that confidence again. It made all the difference absolutely in the bonds in the military are so strong that many students in my own military journey as well is that when you leave the military you do feel that that you are leaving behind a pseudo family or a brotherhood or a sisterhood and we want to replicate that as much as possible for incoming veterans .

So one of the things are you working on here on campus to help ease that transition.

So we have a very strong relationship with the student veterans group the align our veterans and I make contact with all incoming veterans prior to their physical arrival on campus and you see all meet with them for coffee to to find out more about their personal story as well as any sort of support resources we can put in place before the rush of classes start we have a mentoring program where we’ll match an incoming Veteran up with a student veteran who’s been on campus for a while it’s very similar to a sponsored program in the military and we have just different events orientation specifically for veterans and things like that throughout the semester.

Well when you first meet with students who you meet with and actually before with student veterans before they even get here on campus in the what are you telling them what kind of things you’re looking for.

I typically And this is the tricky part but I typically want to find out what their fears and anxieties are coming in and that’s an interesting piece of military culture because the military for many of us teaches us from day one that you don’t talk about your problems you don’t burden people you’re part of a team. So they get them to sort of comfortably what I call remove their social armor and say you know what I’m feeling some anxiety about math or I’m not really feeling like I jive with some of the civilian students here because I’m I’m older or I have these different unique experiences or like Johnny said I’m married and I’m managing a family as well. So getting a sense of what they’re coming in with and and reassuring them and also reiterating the different services we have on campus as well as within the community and just starting to shift that culture a little bit too.

It makes you think there was a report a few years back a few years back that you’ve you’ve written about it showed that more schools are working to help veterans make the transition to college but also showed that many aren’t doing enough to train faculty and staff about the experience or the culture. Jonny talked about that a little bit I mean how does that play out. On a campus.

I think it’s a great question and you know generally speaking what I found and what my research has shown is that veterans oftentimes will come in with an assumption that the university is I use quotes here progressive and liberal and therefore anti-military and then we have faculty and staff who oftentimes have not served in the military so they’re removed from that culture and they have a different set of assumptions and what I find is that we have these different groups on campus who are all sort of contending with their own assumptions and really what my job is is to educate them provide tools for both groups so we can see the complexity and hopefully facilitate a deeper dialogue that’s going to give us all a newfound understanding and we know that you know I think is less than one percent of the U.S. population has served in combat in recent decades.

How do you do that.

That’s a excellent point. I have a very robust faculty and staff training program that I do and I also speak at national conferences and state conferences and oftentimes I’ll just provide some very basic context about who veterans are why we’re hearing about them in higher ed and then you know as Johny touched on there are certain questions that faculty and staff need to be mindful of you know not asking Have you ever shot anybody have you ever had a traumatic experience. So giving them some tangible tools. And also anything that we can do to promote visibility on campus. So we oftentimes will invite faculty and staff to an event if we’re having a veterans’ discussion panel or at a football game or bring all of our student veterans out on the field to be recognized and I think that by weaving this thread of visibility it helps break down some of these assumptions.

Now you mention that you do training sessions with faculty members and staff and the people on campus and you start those training sessions with a question how do I view veterans. What do you learn from those advances people answer that question.

For many many folks the veterans are often times a family member and it used to be a distant family member. World War two veterans come up a lot so you’re typically looking at white males who served in World War two and then I’ll ask them what emotions come up when you think about that trend and that dialogue will oftentimes lead to post-traumatic stress or trauma or things of that nature and then the last question I’ll ask is Where do you get your information is this you know a personal experience or is this something you gain exclusively from the media and I try to start that by all of us having sort of a general mindfulness of how we’re getting this information and then if that information is indeed supported by data.

Do you find that attitudes start to shift pretty quickly as people talk about this and think it makes a lot of time to figure motivations are probably pretty good maybe it’s a curiosity maybe there is a certain novelty to things and they don’t have the kind of experience I don’t think many people are trying to be. Trying to hurt people or in some way offend people. So what do you find as experience when you start to have those discussions.

I think that’s right on the money. Is that what comes out is that it’s oftentimes you know Nick we really want to help out. We don’t really know this population or we don’t really know how to start or or what can we do. But I have found that at the university here and at the conferences I’ve presented at that folks are just so passionate and kind about what can we do to get involved and when I oftentimes will share reports that some of our students feel a little bit of tension about the perception of climate they can see that the faculty and staff take that very seriously and so they’re very curious about what they can do to help offset and deconstruct that assumption .

Well you’ve mentioned that you’re a veteran yourself and came back to campus. What was that experience like.

I you know I had a unique experience in that I enlisted in the military with a master’s degree . I ended up becoming an officer. And then when I came back from a year long deployment I used the G.I. Bill to finish my my doctoral program at U.C. Davis. And so I had to I felt like I was a little bit ahead of the game in that I was familiar with how to navigate through higher ed and I also had a strong support system in place when I came home and left the military and I think that those are what gave me an advantage. But for many service members I work with the top class that we know the Death by Power Point that we reverence is it’s a lot of information in a very quick period of time and for many veterans they’ve shared with me that they didn’t initially see themselves as college students in high school .

So it makes the process and it makes the culture of higher ed even that much more challenging to navigate you know one of the ideas I think I think about what you just said there behind the G.I. Bill is that members of the military are in some ways working to pay for their education while they’re in the service and looking at the results of this survey that came out last week is nearly one in two vets don’t graduate. Even though let’s just a little bit lower the non-military students . Is the military in our colleges doing enough do you think to serve those who served.

That’s a million dollar question. I think that we we all need to be doing more and I think part of that is that in the military is aware of this that there is a Transition Assistance Program is oftentimes more vocationally based and Johnny said a similar thing. Yeah. Or it’s based on a certain type of school such as an online learning environment or a for profit and not necessarily a brick and mortar So I think that there needs to be more training there and I think from a university standpoint it’s all across the board I think some universities are doing a great job and some universities are just sort of starting out on this trajectory with with this population.

We’re talking about G.I. the G.I. Bill and recent efforts on campuses here and elsewhere to ease the transition for veterans coming back from combat and that God’s Word is with us he’s director of veterans’ programs at the U. of I let me now bring in Ed Humes into the conversation he wrote the book over here how the G.I. Bill Transformed the American dream and he joins us now by phone from California. Ed thanks for talking with us.

Of course.

Now we’re talking about the G.I. Bill I mean the first thing that’s important here is that there really is no single G.I. bill at this point. When was the first G.I. Bill of Rights implemented and what did it do for veterans.

Well it was the World War two G.I. Bill the servicemen’s Readjustment Act with its official name and the idea was to help veterans return to peace time and re-enter the workforce but different then compared to now that we had sixteen million men and women who served during World War two that one in eight Americans alive at the time though there was a mess of concern what’s going to happen with all these these guys return and need jobs and want to start families and need a place to live. How do we handle that. It’s never it was never done before or that Mr Scales So the idea was to provide housing and education and other benefits that would help with that transition and avoid the turmoil that happened after World War one.

Afterward you know it’s some of the issues in the M. was the riots in D.C. that came over some of the veterans actually pushed off what they were trying to argue for more more funding and things.

If that was the goal of the bill did it succeed wildly beyond it he’s expectation it was one of the most transformative acts of government in the history of the world.

Really I mean it’s it’s we’re so far reaching that literally.

Created the middle class said that with the stimulus the ultimate stimulus program that took a nation of runners which most of us Americans were before World War two and jump started homeownership and made it possible for guys to come home and buy a house for sixty four dollars a month and no money down cheaper than renting a place that’s where suburbia came from and when you look at the impact on education. So funny I was just looking back over some comment that that very progressive of the University of Chicago made its time just before the war and it is a very progressive educator Robert HUTCHENS But he predicted that the G.I. Bill would turn colleges into Obo jungle because the men and women but mostly it was World War two were not college material. Colleges were for the only primarily for the wealthy and now you got these guys just like today . College was not on the radar for the veterans of World War two before the war and suddenly you had millions entering college. The fear was that standards would be lowered and the educational experience with the ruined American colleges would be right and just the opposite happened. They performed incredibly well. Fourteen Nobel Prize winners came out of that group of veterans who came home from war and I interviewed a few of them they said that they were never going to go to college you know what was going Fermi Lab redefining physics inventing the cures for cancer. The payback from that investment and educating etc and it changed everything and it also changed I thinking about who should go to college but what they had as I say listening to Johnny for World War two veterans had with numbers they were not alone. These cut campuses were constructing whole cities to accommodate veterans and their families and giving them a stipend to live there.

The government provided you had to provide living expenses too and they so they get one another to rely on and you know it’s fearful for them to enter college which they had never imagined doing.

They had support built in just because you know so many are very substantial from where the some pretty profound things that you’re actively created the modern middle class by opening these doors and it completely changed perceptions about education and access to education. Yet there were those attitudes at the time was that the common attitude was this was this bill widely embraced and where the benefits while the embrace at the time.

No one expected least of all the congress men who adopted this and not even F.D.R. vision what would happen if he shepherded through and they actually passed this bill before the war and they wanted to be prepared.

They thought that the provision of the bill that would be most used and what’s most controversy was called fifty two twenty provision and this was a program that gave that returning veterans unemployment payments of twenty dollars a week for a year. Do we.

Twenty bucks and everybody worried that the veterans who just go on the dole and get back in and her reenter society with this and when it isn’t even take advantage of it or only do it and you know for a portion of their eligibility receive and what turned out to be the two biggest programs a college for two point two million veterans went to four year colleges and another five million went to vocational schools of the G.I. Bill. At best congress the congressman who wrote this legislation predicted a few hundred thousand would take advantage of the educational time. They were so wrong about what these veterans would want to do.

Yeah on so many levels it sounds like you think you know a little bit further down the road. I mean and you’ve got a whole book on this issue essentially But you know in ninety seconds or so here I mean how has that bill then evolved over time to what we have now in the in the post nine eleven.

Well it’s it was never as generous as it was in after World War two The Greatest Generation was also that in that sense the most privileged Federation because they got a free ride any college that would accept them.


You know Illinois Harvard this or bone or whatever they do you think you know until fairly recently that the benefits are gotten pretty miserly when you cover a state university for years it’s gotten a little better in the last couple years because of the realization that we were really short changing cities that are and compared to the past but it’s still not as generous a program as it was back.

And there is now a push to include things like offering in-state tuition levels to returning veterans and things like that. Thank you very much for your time. Ed Humes wrote the book over here how the G.I. Bill Transformed the American dream and he joined us by phone from California thank you very much. My pleasure and we are still talking with Nicholas Osborne Nick I was born assistant dean of students a student services and director of veterans’ programs at the University of Illinois.

Nick David called in from Urbana just a moment ago he couldn’t hang out but he’s wondering do we need an extension to the G.I. bill he says that might make it easier for more people to go to college what do you think I do I think that it would provide a long term basis I think that that’s a great idea.

I’ve been watching you know even while we’re sitting here some of the headlines going on of things we’ve been talking a lot about perceptions of veterans on campus and easing the transition into campus and I wonder is I want to headlines and things going on in Fort Hood right now. People are jumping to a lot of conclusions with very very little information at this point and I hadn’t always connected it back to actual. Folks on the ground walking by me here down the street in how they are viewing this and how it affects perceptions of them here on campus. You know when you hear words like Iraq war veteran and mental health and shooting How do events like this factor into what you’re working on in your discussions and training.

I really appreciate you asking that question. Interestingly enough I actually feel of the few e-mails and phone calls yesterday which is fairly common when that happens and this is something that going back to perceptions and research I’ve conducted that many veterans feel that there is sort of a blanket assumption when they say that they served in Iraq or Afghanistan that the natural response is Oh then there must be something wrong with you.

You must be knowledge justed or possibly dangerous and obviously what happened at Fort Hood was it was a tragedy and I think that post-traumatic stress statistics and traumatic brain injury these are very real things I would never want to minimize that. I think that the other side of that coin though is we don’t want to exclusively look at veterans through a lens of trauma and that’s something I emphasize at the faculty and staff training is absolutely these things are out there. But this isn’t the full story and we have to look at the complexity of this and particularly with any group one student you would never want to apply any sort of blanket assumption and essentially ostracized that that group.

Because it reminds you know there really is no single veteran experience and I talked with one woman who serve in the Navy for for a number of years of the time and she’s you know now entering the nursing program over at Parkland . You know people think oh boy they find out she was a navy and work critically and some construction work and she described herself as sort of this you know small woman a mother of several children and they look at her like in shock just disbelief. I mean if it’s also a reminder that there is no single type of veteran these are the same range of people just like you and me that you’re going to see anywhere else.

Absolutely and this this veterans’ identity may be also a part of a larger identity you know whether it’s based on sexual orientation or religious affiliation or race and ethnicity that this is a piece of who they are and you know it’s somewhat sort of fun when I when I do the faculty and staff training also as a veteran look like and will say well you know broad shouldered in high and tight haircutter that so that’s why do you think that there is sort of an image of what a veteran is and the identity that goes with it but we have to look at it through that that larger holistic lens that you just touched on and do you know I know you’ve done surveys and you sort of just really begun this process and in many ways been too sensitive what works to address some of those issues and change some of those perceptions and make.

The campus is a friendlier place.

I believe that the visibility is so important and we’ve had great support in this community with local newspapers writing articles and interviews with our students where they can tell their stories. We’ve done a dozen student veteran discussion panels. I just partnered with uni high school last year with inventions oral history project and I think that any type of venue where we have students sharing their personal narrative and we can open it up for questions and answers that it helps remove some of the mystery and then hopefully by removing the mystery we’re also removing some of the inaccurate assumptions that we’re making and what about on the flip side then for the veterans themselves I mean you know some places focus primarily on online classes there are veteran centers in many places.

That’s only classes that orientations when they first come to campus. What types of things do you think are worth focusing on going forward for

those. People I think that we need a central office that advocates for veterans and when you say well what does it mean to advocate I think it’s everything from helping them with their initial transition to educating the faculty and staff to working with veterans in the larger community I think those Town and Gown relationships with the different veterans’ organizations are so important. And really listening to what the students have to say I spent a lot of time with my students we have a veterans’ lounge which is just a phenomenal resource that I highly encourage it gives them a place to go particularly because veterans can use the campus it gives them a constant space that there’s and I think that the listening component is so important because you know I say this tongue in cheek veterans are a vocal group and they don’t have any problem saying hey you know this isn’t cool or we need this and I really appreciate those types of authentic conversations that take place with them.

Do you think your one person staff from what I understand you know you’ve got you’ve got a lot to do with you know especially as we see more and more veterans returning who have returned who are now looking to take advantage of the benefits under the G.I. bill come to campus either as undergrad or grad students and we know that most of them are undergrad students at this point. Are you. Are you satisfied I guess that what you’re talking what is happening here and that you have what you need to to change this.

I have a group of a half a dozen student veterans and Johnny is actually one of them and you know they’re such a capable group that if I give them a task or if we come up with an idea they just recently put together this this five K. which will be taking place tomorrow. They did it last year for the first time . We raised over ten thousand dollars to benefit such as Family Foundation Center for wounded veterans in higher education. So they’re an extremely talented group. And right now it works right now I think that where we were when I started three and a half years ago we definitely made solid ground but I don’t think there is ever an point I think that this program will continue to evolve as we eventually open the Center for wounded veterans in the fall of twenty fifteen I think that we’re going to see more and more resources and more and more leadership coming out of the University of Illinois and at that point we’re going to offer me the conversation about staffing and so I feel right now we’re at work fine but I see ahead that we are going to have that larger dialogue about the best way to staff and expand and to me to meet their growing need .

Nick Osborne is assistant dean of students services who directs the veterans programs at the university campus joined us here by phone from his office. Nick thank you very much and I started my pleasure you have a great day. Thanks you too and good luck. Up next the books to check out if you want the long view the historical view on Putin’s latest pursuits in Ukraine will get a reading list on the crisis in Crimea Stay with us it’s focus from Illinois Public Media.

Johnny Watts started school at the University of Illinois after serving in the Army for six years. He says returning to the life of a student after serving in the military was a little daunting. He worried he wouldn’t be classroom ready, that other students would be far ahead of him in terms of coursework. But once he found a community of veterans to hang out with, he says it got easier. “It was nice when I found other vets to talk to. You kind of have your own language after being in the service,” he said. “And, then I had someone else besides my wife to talk to about school.”

Watts graduates this spring from the University of Illinois with a degree in electrical engineering, and is moving to southern California with his wife. She’s also a veteran who has been attending the University of Illinois. And, according to a new study from the Student Veterans of America, the Watts’ are among a large group of veterans who’ve taken advantage of the education benefits in the Post 9/11 GI Bill.

New data shows that just over 50 percent of returning soldiers who use the GI Bill are finishing their degrees.

Nicholas Osborne, Dean of Veterans Student Services at the University of Illinois, says it’s a little bit higher than 50 percent at the Urbana campus where around 400 veterans are enrolled. He’s not satisfied with that figure. “That means 1 in 2 veterans are dropping out of school. We can do better.”

The original G.I. Bill that was passed in 1944 following World War II was transformative to the way Americans think about higher education. Author Ed Humes says that at the time, few people thought veterans would utilize the education benefit. They were wrong; nearly 8 million vets finished degrees following the war. 

The current G.I. Bill is much different than the original one, but many are still using it to gain access to higher education. Osborne says it’s up to colleges and universities to ensure it’s feasible for veterans to utilize current day benefits.

During this Focus interview, Scott Cameron talks with Watts about the unique barriers he’s faced trying to get acclimated with the university environment after returning from the military. We also hear from Osborne and author Ed Humes who wrote the book “Over Here: How the G.I. Bill Transformed the American Dream.”