Orange County college tries to raise funds to help veterans

A community college fundraiser in Orange County on Thursday underscores the situation of a growing number of military veterans who enroll at public colleges: the transition from combat to classroom can be severe.

About 60,000 veterans are enrolled in California colleges.Wylie McGraw is one of them.

"I spent six years active duty in the United States Army, as an infantryman… …I have tours in Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq." he said.

Two years ago he enrolled at Santa Ana College. No one walked him through all the paperwork, or explained how he’d cover his school and home bills before the GI Bill check arrived. Few people on the campus could relate to the life-and-death combat he’d seen years earlier.

"And you come to a classroom setting and you’re around a bunch of boys and girls, probably just out of high school, still living at home that probably don’t have the life experiences you do so you try to focus," he said.

A year later, with money it already had, the college opened a veterans’ resource center to help. Counselor Jane Mathis says the college won’t get any state money for the center, so it wants to raise $100,000 to help the 500 or so veterans enrolled this year.

"Primarily we’re looking at scholarships, we’re looking at short term loans, and we’re also looking at increasing counseling hours four our veterans," she said.

Most other California public colleges are doing similar fundraising to help veterans earn their degrees. Laura Shigemitsu runs Cal State LA’s two-month-old veteran student center, housed in a small office.

"If I have to go out and stand out on the corner and you know, do car washes, if I have to knock on doors of businesses to donate box lunches because we’re having a conference ... " she said.

Shigemitsu says financial aid is the most important consideration for her veterans, because GI Bill benefits end after three years. That’s the point at which many vets transfer from community colleges to four-year universities.

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