U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen met with Edmond’s College administrators Thursday to discuss ways to improve access to higher education for U.S. military veterans.
As more students return to in-person learning, the number of veterans enrolling in college is still lower than pre-pandemic levels, said the college’s Veteran Resource Center Director Matthew Durke.
The Veterans Resource Center aims to help military veterans access the necessary tools to enroll in college. Prior to the pandemic, Durke said, there were roughly 150 student veterans enrolled at Edmonds College. Now, he said the number is closer to 80.
“There’s been a dip,” he said.
However, Durke said the school has been working on its outreach efforts through a peer mentoring program that reduces previous barriers. The program also brings veterans into contact with counselors who help them navigate application processes for tuition assistance.
Edmonds College Outreach Specialist Dennis Gibb works with incarcerated and formerly incarcerated veterans. He said his caseload includes 40 veterans, seven of whom are currently enrolled at the college full time. According to Gibb, helping previously incarcerated people achieve higher education is the key to assuring they will not end up back in jail.
“The more education a person has, the less likely they are to reoffend,” he said. “The whole mission is to get these people through here and get them into education.”
The resource center also works to help recently released veterans find access to housing and food. Gibb – a U.S. Army veteran who was previously incarcerated himself – said he understands the struggle of being released from incarceration.
“They need to know somebody cares about them and that we’ll reach out to them and work with them,” he said.
Additionally, Durke said the college is working to provide more outreach to female veteran students. According to Durke, there are significantly fewer female veterans seeking access to higher education.
“A lot of women veterans tend to not want to be with the VA or seek services because the perception is it’s a male-dominated program,” he said.
Durke also said the college has created a one-stop shop called the Triton Student Resource Hub on campus, where students can access a food pantry, community resource advocate and emergency funds.
However, unlike the typical college student — a young person in their late teens or early 20s 00 many veterans are at a point in their lives where they can’t wait years to receive a degree, Gibb said. For them, the college offers a fast-track program.
“They need something where they can work,” he said. “So, the college has come up with this idea of being able to train people and get them (through) a program in three to six months.”
Durke pointed out that with the right tools, student veterans are 30% more likely to achieve their higher education goals.
“Higher academia is a complex engine…that it’s really hard to navigate,” he said. “So when we have a fast track (program) that makes it easier, when we have the one-stop center, when we have the veterans resource center it makes it easier for student veterans.”
— Story and photo by Cody Sexton