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Veterans return to COC

College has 200 students on GI Bill, and the number keeps increasing

Posted: September 27, 2009 10:20 p.m.
Updated: September 28, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Veteran Josh Eggman joins his chemistry study group in the Tutoring, Learning and Computer Lab at College of the Canyons on Wednesday. Eggman, 29, is one of more than 200 COC students using the GI Bill to earn an education.

 
Josh Eggman started his education at UC San Diego on a soccer scholarship. After a year, Eggman hit a wall with his studies and lost his scholarship.

Figuring he needed to get away from the party lifestyle and straighten out, Eggman enlisted in the Army, looking forward to a strict military lifestyle and eight months of intense training.

He was 19.

Eggman did two tours of duty in Afghanistan and traveled the world for one-month deployments, including countries in Asia and Europe and spots all over Africa and South America.

Returning to civilian life was "rough," he said, as he didn't feel he had the right skills to get into the work force.

"I had bigger dreams when I got out," he said.

Now 29, Eggman moved back to California and picked up his education at COC, hoping to study engineering.

He is one of more than 200 COC students using the GI Bill to earn an education.

"The whole point of the GI Bill is to give them time to catch up," said Renard Thomas, who works with veterans at COC.

The number of students using the GI Bill at COC has been on the increase, as an estimated 250 to 300 students use the Post 9/11 GI Bill for help paying for school, Thomas said.

Thomas attributes the increase to the economy.

"We're seeing more and more re-entry students," he said.

Most of the students are between the ages of 20 and 30, as most enlist at the age of 18 and serve for four years, Thomas said.

The college is also seeing students who are dependents of veterans and qualify for federal money.

At the same time, Thomas said students like Eggman are coming to COC after living out of the area or even out of the state.

"Students are coming here because of the reputation of the college," he said.

As veterans come back to school and adjust to civilian life, earning an education creates career opportunities.

"It helps them be more marketable and refine and develop their skill sets," he said.

Along with working through paperwork, Thomas counsels students as they make the transition from military to civilian life and prepare for an education.

"A lot of these students went into the service because they weren't interested in going to school," he said.

Through his interviews with students, Thomas guides them on the classes they need, using language that sounds familiar.

"This is a map to your objective," he said, referring to the lists of courses students need in order to earn their degrees or certifications.

Outside of COC, 12 students studying at The Master's College are on the GI Bill, and one student at the California Institute of the Arts is using the bill. Another three CalArts students are considered dependents of veterans and receive money from Veterans Affairs.

Generally, qualifying students are eligible for benefits for 15 years from the last period of active duty of at least 90 days consecutive service.

The bill provides students with funding for everything from book and housing allowances to the cost of tuition and fees.
"I don't have to take out any student loans," Eggman said.

He said the sluggish economy was the final push for him to enroll at COC as the recession forced his hours at a construction company to dwindle.

And he wanted to make sure he used the GI Bill benefits before it was too late.

Eggman plans to stay at COC for another year before transferring to UC San Diego for another two years, he said.

Eggman also works with Thomas in assisting other veterans as they adjust to civilian life.

"I try to make them feel a little more comfortable because I know what it feels like," said the Stevenson Ranch resident.

While the transition back into everyday life can be tough, Thomas disputes the notion that veterans come back unstable.

"That's not us. We don't fit that bill," he said. "All we want is the opportunity to catch up. Be fair to us. Give us the same opportunity you would give any other student."

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