Among the students at Carroll College, 35 bring experience far more intense than most: They’re military veterans, many with service in war zones.
“They are older, more mature. They’ve already been there, done that,” said Tom Brownlee, professor of anthrozoology, which involves training dogs to be service animals, search-and-rescue workers and more. “Going to college classes for them is not stressful. They know what stress is.”
The college has 16 new students this fall who have served, a number that’s been growing since 2009, when Carroll joined the Veterans’ Administration’s Yellow Ribbon program.
That provides a significant portion of the tuition and expenses for veterans, with the post-9/11 GI Bill and other financial mechanisms adding up to an expense-free education, with even housing and book allowances, for veterans with three or more years of active service. Those with less active duty still get significant benefits.
Now, 22 students use that program and 50 students — including dependents of veterans — use some kind of VA benefit to attend the school.
That record has earned Carroll inclusion on a list of military-friendly schools, compiled by Victory Media, which specializes in coverage of military personnel transitioning to civilian life.
Since the start of the Yellow Ribbon program, 35 students have used it to attend Carroll.
“When we found out the Yellow Ribbon program was available, we couldn’t imagine not being part of it, because it’s the right thing to do for our veterans,” said Tina Wagner, who handles the program for Carroll’s financial aid office.
(The VA Yellow Ribbon program is not the same program as one with the identical name operated by the Department of Defense that provides various pre- and post-deployment services to troops and their families.)
The school also has a full-time veteran service coordinator, Brandy Keely, who began at the school in April.
The school offers vet-specific orientation and on-campus counseling (led by a counselor who is a veteran). Keely provides academic advising specifically for veterans, and the school is working on a VA center, where veterans can study or just be among one another.
Carroll has also held luncheons for the veterans to get their feedback on how it’s all working out.
“It’s not only important to recruit the students here, but it’s important to have the services in order to support them,” Keely said.
The Yellow Ribbon program pays only up to 36 months of expenses; that’s four of Carroll’s nine-month academic years. For students to stay longer, needing a fifth year, the school will work hard to connect them with other resources, such as merit scholarships.
The military has long provided a way for Americans to pay for higher education and Carroll has been part of that equation. It was one of just 131 institutions nationwide chosen for the Navy V-12 program in World War II, which aimed to flesh out the ranks of officers. Later, the school had many students attending on the original G.I. Bill.
Erick Goudie is new to the college this year, transferring in from Montana State University. He grew up in a military family and said college benefits were a significant reason for his enlistment. An Army infantryman, he served in Kosovo and then in Iraq from November 2003 to March 2005.
“I take school really seriously because it’s an opportunity that I did earn and I feel like I represent a lot of my buddies who are still in, and some that
didn’t make it,” he said.
He plans to continue serving others with a degree in nursing.
One of the purposes of the school’s one-of-a-kind anthrozoology program is to train people to train animals to helping veterans with disabilities including post-traumatic stress disorder.
One class consists only of veterans (plus one spouse of a veteran) and Brownlee, the professor, said the learning goes both directions.
Some of the veterans, for example, worked with dogs in the military. The program, among other things, helps train dogs to serve The Veterans Dog Training Therapy Act, introduced by U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., which has been passed into law but is not yet funded or implemented; the Carroll program is a pilot of sorts upon which others could someday be based.
Some of the veterans in the program suffer from PTSD themselves, Brownlee said, and their presence gives all involved a better understanding of what that entails.
“It lets us know what kind of burden they’re bearing, and we need to know that, because they did it for us,” he said.
Reporter Sanjay Talwani: 447-4086 or sanjay.talwani