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Local community colleges respond to increasing military enrollment

Leaders from San Diego and Imperial counties’ six community college districts gathered aboard the USS Midway Museum on Tuesday to confirm their commitment to veteran students’ education in the face of shrinking budgets and troop drawdowns from overseas.

With 33,000 troops returned home in the past two years and further drawdowns expected to continue through 2014, increasing numbers of veterans transitioning to civilian life are seeking education through the community college system. The San Diego and Imperial Counties Community Colleges Association has faced millions of dollars in budget cuts since the start of the recession in 2008, and the possibility of an additional $30 million reduction in mid-year cuts means more than 10,000 students wanting to register for classes would be unable to do so.

Melinda Nish, superintendent and president of Southwestern College in Chula Vista, said more than 485,000 people, including many veterans, have been turned away from local community colleges in the past three years because of budget constraints. More than 20,000 veterans and active-duty military members and their dependents enroll each year in one of San Diego and Imperial counties’ nine community colleges, with MiraCosta Community College seeing a 150 percent increase in veteran enrollment during the past 10 years. Nish said all community college leaders in San Diego and Imperial counties were committed to keeping this opportunity available for veterans.

“It is our duty to work with the resources that we do have available to try to provide quality educational services to as many students as possible,” Nish said. “Despite shrinking resources, all of us here today are committed to finding ways to keep the doors of access open to our veterans, and all Californians wishing to attend college.”

The San Diego and Imperial Counties Community Colleges Association has several measures in place to assist veterans and active-duty military with the transition to student life. Veterans are given the first right of registration at all of the association's institutions, a policy that Constance M. Carroll, chancellor of the San Diego Community College District, said will remain unchanged regardless of fiscal constraints.

Many of the schools have a Veterans Affairs office where students can communicate with fellow veterans and go for advice on their benefits or general enrollment questions. Palomar Community College in San Marcos is committed to expanding its veterans center, and Southwestern College is expanding its veteran center and counseling department to include counseling services solely for veterans. Southwestern College also has an active 500-plus member Student Veteran Organization group.

Army Reserve veteran Justin Dile, who was deployed to Iraq for 15 months and graduated with honors from Grossmont College in 2011, said these considerations for veteran students do make a difference.

“You can see our community colleges as a whole have a grasp, especially in this community, on what veterans truly need, and that’s an amazing thing,” Dile said.

When asked about the effect of the impending vote on Proposition 30, Nish said it would be disastrous for community colleges in San Diego and Imperial counties if it failed.

“If Prop. 30 does not pass, it means that we will have a mid-year cut in our apportionment revenue that will be a permanent cut. It will be over a $300 million cut to the system; to Southwestern College specifically it will be $4.8 million,” Nish said. “Every college within SDICCCA will suffer a significant permanent cut in apportionment revenue, and these cuts will definitely have an impact on the services and course offerings that we will be able to provide for our students, and our veteran students.”

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Roger F. 9:00pm October 2, 2012

Very informative article. The whole American education scene seems like a mess these days. This year's average score for the SAT verbal section being a historic low. High percentages of public school kids performing reading and math at below their grade level. 30% of students dropping out of high school instead of passing (though some will return to receive GEDs). High incidences of college freshmen dropping out because they weren't prepared to handle the workload. All those issues covered in "Waiting for Superman". Glad California is taking steps to fight back, especially for our heroes!