Starting your college education after a career in the military can be daunting. Many veterans do not return to higher education because of career-specific skills learned in the military, difficulties with previous education or doubts that college is the right path. So how did three veterans become USF students after deciding not to re-enlist? The Foghorn spoke with two enrolled students and one alumnus to hear their perspectives on returning home, pursuing an education and what USF does to assist veteran students.
Chris Monge, who now works at USF as a field support technician at ITS, had dreamed of becoming a soldier since he was a boy. After he enlisted, he was surprised to find that the majority of his commanding officers had college degrees. “Most of them have at least a bachelor’s, and I wanted to match that. I wanted to be equal to them,” he said. After graduating last December, Monge felt that the time commitment to the army conflicted with his plans to start a family, and decided not to re-enlist.
Daniel Goldberg, a sophomore majoring in design, enlisted in the Army in order to fund his education. During his deployment, he was stationed in Guantanamo Bay and Baghdad, and found reprieve through creative writing.
After beginning his education again at Orange Coast Community College in fall 2016, Goldberg faced prejudice from students because of his veteran status.
“It was uncomfortable being a veteran there because they automatically assume I’m a veteran, I must love Donald Trump,” Goldberg said. This student environment is caused him to reach out to USF, believing he could find a more open-minded culture.
Monge believes that there is a gap between students and veterans, but not because of political beliefs. “Where [veterans] feel there’s a disconnect is the quality of person a soldier can be,” Monge said, explaining that civilians’ first impression of soldiers is often of apprehension.
None of the veterans said they’ve faced political prejudice from USF students, and all felt that the largest disconnect between the two groups is age.
Michael Rigoletti, a sophomore transfer studying political science, described himself as “a full-time father,” to his child. He said that juggling his family, education and plans for law school takes his time away from him being involved in student culture. After leaving the Air Force in 2013, Rigoletti took up jobs at Lyft and Target for almost a year to support his family. He applied to USF in 2015 after deciding he “wanted to do something better with his life.”
To pay for college, many veterans are taking a pay cut. “Some of us go from making sixty to seventy thousand dollars a year to making small amounts, so it isn’t often practical for veterans to choose college,” Monge said. But there are many programs that help.
“The GI Bill; for one it’s a lot of paperwork,” Rigoletti said, adding that it would be overwhelming to go at it alone. “They make sure that the GI Bill is being paid for here, but they also make sure I’m getting my housing allowance…this way I don’t have to stress.” The GI Bill, a benefit that helps cover costs associated with getting an education, also offers tuition assistance.
Veterans Affairs, a federal agency that provides financial forms of assistance, has an allotted payment per semester that it covers. But because USF tuition is so expensive, the payment amount is not enough to cover each semester. This is when veterans pay out of pocket to cover the difference, take a semester off or receive help from the Yellow Ribbon Program, a program that assists in paying the tuition difference not covered by Veteran Affairs.
Each of these programs help steer veterans towards higher education with the hopes that more will choose college after the military.