Columbus State Among Schools Easing Path to College for Military

COLUMBUS, Ga. – Columbus State University is playing a vital role in “Soldiers 2 Scholars,” a recently beefed-up University System of Georgia program that’s designed to help those in military service make the transition to civilian life by earning a college degree.

“The S2S program has become a means of using proven methods and best practices that attract and retain military students in the University System,” said Tonya Lam, the USG’s associate vice chancellor for Student Affairs. “We want to create campuses that are inviting and friendly to military personnel and veterans.”

At Columbus State, the grant supports the university’s efforts over the last year to significantly boost its service to, and connection with, Fort Benning, veterans and the military community. Retired Army Lt. Col. Mark Ridley is spearheading CSU’s efforts, which include:

  • An expanded array of online courses targeting the military.
  • A beefed-up Veterans Affairs office.
  • Additional classroom space near Fort Benning at CSU’s Oxbow Meadows.
  • Academic credit toward a master’s in public administration (government track) or a master’s of educational leadership for soldiers who complete the Maneuver Captains’ Career Course at Fort Benning.
The USG launched the Soldier 2 Scholars program in January 2010, with Columbus State one of nine founding institutions. (Others were Atlanta Metropolitan College, Clayton State University, Darton College, Fort Valley State University, Georgia Perimeter College and Kennesaw State University, North Georgia College and State University and Valdosta State University.) It continues to expand with the recent addition of Gainesville State College, Southern Polytechnic State University and Albany State.

Funded in part by Georgia’s $4.2 million College Access Challenge Grant from the U.S. Department of Education, each participating institution must establish outreach centers designed to assist service members and their families by serving as a one-stop shop as they enroll, register or apply for GI Bill benefits. The centers also help service members with housing availability, counseling, work-study opportunities and campus activities as well as serving as a hub for military student and veteran social activities.

“Service members and veterans who are making the transition from combat to the classroom often have unique needs,” said Lam.

The S2S program also offers training to faculty and staff to help them be more in tune with the physical, emotional and academic challenges typically faced by combat veterans and family members of deployed troops.

Lam also said S2S officials work closely with the Veterans Administration to obtain expert counseling and training needed to assist individuals with post traumatic stress disorder.

“Having someone who understands the military experience and ‘speaks the language’ available to answer questions is a huge asset in helping military students and their family members become part of the campus community,” said Lam. “The goal of Soldiers 2 Scholars is to provide military students with access to high quality education on military friendly campuses or through the convenient, flexible online degree programs.”

Through the U.S. Department of Defense Military Tuition Assistance program, active duty military can receive up to $4,500 in tuition assistance. Veterans can receive up to 36 months of educational benefits, which can be used for up to 15 years and are transferable to a spouse or dependent child. Earlier this year, through the GI Bill, President Obama lifted the tuition cap that was in place for veterans at public institutions.