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News Clips 03/17/2014
FAMU begins push to attract more student veterans
Source: Tallahassee Democrat, 03/16/14
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By Doug Blackburn
Solomon Badger and Rufus Montgomery, members of the Florida A&M University Board of Trustees, don’t enjoy a lot of common ground. Sure, both men attended FAMU and care deeply for their alma mater. But they are separated by more than three decades. When there is a close vote among trustees, they rarely are on the same side.
But there is one thing Badger and Montgomery can relate to that only recently came to the fore at FAMU: the university’s lack of services for student veterans.
Badger arrived at FAMU in 1961, six days after returning to the U.S. following three years in Korea with the Air Force. There was nothing in place to assist the 22-year-old freshman.
“Leaving a military environment, it took a little bit of time to get adjusted,” Badger told me. “A veterans office would have been super beneficial.”
Montgomery took a three-year leave from FAMU in 1989 following his freshman year to join the Army and take part in Operation Desert Storm. When he returned to FAMU, eager to get on with his education, there was no office or individual trained to assist him with the transition back to school.
That is about to change. Finally.
Inspired by a presentation from Lt. Col. Joseph Kelly, a professor of military science at FAMU, the university’s trustees earlier this month approved creation of a Department of Veterans Affairs. University administrators have been tasked with finding the funds to hire a director and staff.
It should pay for itself if handled well. There are 1.6 million veterans living in Florida, and tens of thousands of veterans will be leaving the armed forces in the next few years.
For FAMU, eager to grow its enrollment back — it plummeted by more than 15 percent during the past two years — veterans offer a prime source for new students.
But FAMU has to be prepared. Montgomery urged the university to be sure to have mental health counselors in place for student veterans.
FAMU interim President Larry Robinson observed that FAMU is a little late coming to this dance. Florida State University, promoting itself as the most “veteran friendly campus in the country,” hired retired Air Force Lt. Col. Billy Francis to lead its student veterans center on Nov. 11, 2011. Tallahassee Community College unveiled its expanded center for student veterans last year.
But this isn’t a sprint. It’s a marathon without an end in sight.
A nation that has been sending men and women into combat situations for more than 10 years running is going to have a constant stream of veterans ready to get a degree as a springboard to a job.
Welcome to the race, FAMU. I suspect there are many veterans — from Florida, from across the fruited plain — who would love to go to school on the hill.