FORT CAMPBELL — With a fattened G.I. Bill covering full tuition and more, the number of veterans attending college this fall is expected to jump 30 percent from last year to nearly half a million. That's left many universities looking for ways to ease the transition from combat to the classroom.
Vets already in school have run into problems including campus bureaucracy, crowds that can trigger alarm instincts honed by war and fellow students who don't understand their battlefield experiences.
In response, colleges across the country are offering veterans-only classes, adding counselors and streamlining the application and aid process.
Under the new G.I. Bill expanded by Congress last year, the number of military veterans either starting or continuing their studies this fall is expected to top 460,000, up from 354,000 last autumn, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Many of them will encounter a classroom culture shock that can leave them agitated.
Colin Closs, a former Fort Campbell soldier studying at Cleveland State University in Ohio, said he was bothered by how veterans are sometimes treated on campus.
Closs benefited this past school year from a program at Cleveland State started in 2007 by chemistry professor John Schupp to form some freshman-level classes with all veterans. Schupp's idea was to keep the military men and women together as a unit so they can support and motivate each other.
The University of Arizona adopted his program last year and schools in at least a dozen states are working on programs modeled on Cleveland State.
Closs said after leaving the military, he had trouble interacting with people who don't understand his wartime experiences. But when he takes classes with other veterans, they can talk about problems they may have, whether its educational or personal.
"It's like the VFW hall without the alcohol," Closs said.
Congress voted last year to dramatically expand the G.I. Bill. The old measure offered $1,321 a month to cover all college costs. Effective Aug. 1, the new bill will cover tuition and fees for any in-state public university, a housing allowance and $1,000 a year for books and supplies.