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Higher Ed Prepares For Thousands of Veterans

Florida colleges and universities are welcoming hundreds of thousands of students to campus this fall, and a large portion of those students include men and women who chose to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces following Sept. 11, 2001.

Thousands of those students entering the state's community colleges and universities will be attending under the new GI Bill, which went into effect Aug. 1, and pays for full tuition and fees, a monthly housing stipend and a $1,000 per year book stipend for veterans who were active on or after Sept. 11, 2001.

An estimated 42,000 of the students taking advantage of the new GI Bill may be attending Florida's community colleges. The state university system is not yet releasing numbers on how many are expected at the state's 11 state universities.

At University of Central Florida, James Middlekauff has spent the better part of this past year preparing for an influx of veterans at the Orlando-area university. He has no official count yet on how many veterans are expected at UCF, but is expecting the current veteran population on the campus could triple

His office has been receiving about 80 calls per day from students on the GI bill asking questions.

In preparation for the incoming students, Middlekauff has been partnering with disabilities services, the university’s marriage and family institute and other departments to make sure there is adequate counseling and support services available for the students.

He's also been meeting with faculty and staff to make sure they too are aware that many of their new students may not be typical 18- through 22-year-olds and they may not relate well to some of their peers.

“It's hard for the students to relate and those kind of things can relate to frustrations and the professors need to know how to help them cope with that,” said Middlekauff, a 22-year Navy veteran.

At University of South Florida too, officials don't know exactly how many veterans to expect this year versus a few years from now when community college students would transfer to a four-year institution.

But USF, like UCF, has been preparing for more and more veterans to be showing up in its classrooms. The university was the first to sign an agreement with the U.S. Department of Veteran Affair to create an office for the VA on the USF campus, so that students could just stop by the office in between classes.

“They're just easier to get to, they're more accessible,” said Tracy Tyree, associate vice president of USF.

The university is also ready to start advertising for a new director of veterans affairs who Tyree will hope create partnerships with veterans groups throughout the community and any surrounding higher education institutions and make the campus more “military and veteran friendly.”

“We hope that if we put more human resources in this effort it will ultimately lead to a better experience, a better place for our veterans to get their undergraduate or graduate education,” she said.

The state's Web site for veterans pursuing higher education is http://www.service2scholars.org/

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