By Jim Heiney, El Paso Community College:
(El Paso, Texas, Jan. 18, 2018)
A major part of El Paso Community College’s history is a long tradition of educating the area’s active-duty Soldiers and veterans. When the college was created in 1971, El Paso was home to many veterans returning from the Vietnam War, so educating the nation’s returning heroes became a top priority.
EPCC’s ties to the military grew stronger when an agreement was signed between the Army and EPCC to open the college’s first campus on Fort Bliss in 1972. Almost a half century later, EPCC’s top priority is still the military.
In July 2016, EPCC opened the Veterans Resource Center, and it is one of the most comprehensive centers of its kind at a college or university in the Southwest region. The center, still in its infancy, will eventually become a comprehensive one-stop shop for veterans.
“We have an obligation to provide all of our current military-affiliated students and family members with an appropriate education, so they can go out and garner employment,” said Arvis Jones, EPCC director of student government and campus life.
The center provides individual case management to assist veterans with registration for classes, requesting benefits, applying for Veterans Affairs work-study programs, community referrals, peer-to-peer support, a book exchange program, workshops, coordination of VA services and other assistance that will help them achieve success on their educational journey. The center offers computers, a printer and informal meeting areas for students to congregate, meet and talk candidly with other veteran students.
“The transitions from military to civilian life and then to campus life can be daunting for military-affiliated students and veterans, so EPCC is an effective choice for these students because of the accessibility and support programs available,” Jones said.
EPCC engages students inside and outside the classroom. As part of the work-study program, veterans are able to learn about college life from their peers and assist incoming and current veteran students in their own language. The college’s VA offices can help students better understand all of the benefits available to them, as well as become more familiar with the college registration process and manage their time as efficiently as possible.
Take Melayia Crum, who came to EPCC as an active-duty Soldier. Now a student, she has learned to effectively divide her time with family, employment and school. “EPCC does everything right; they helped me get the start of my college education,” Crum said. “I now know how to help others in similar situations.”
Not only does EPCC provide opportunities for veterans, but active-duty Soldiers as well. Serving our country while getting an education may sound like an impossible task, but EPCC student-Soldiers do it every day. Many must take classes online or in the classroom, evenings or weekends.
EPCC works with students who have to go out to the field and also provides flexible schedules, online courses and helpful faculty who understand the challenges that life in the military can bring.
Regardless whether a student is a veteran, Soldier or family member of those serving our country, EPCC also has an admissions and counseling staff that is experienced in military needs. Staff can answer all questions, such as how to use tuition assistance, accessing benefit programs and getting credit for military experience.
“Soldiers sometimes do not realize it is not just today; there is a future coming up,” said Gloria Miller, EPCC military counselor. “EPCC gets students from point A to point B. We offer classes when Soldiers need them, free tutoring and almost all of their credits transfer.”
As EPCC approaches its 50th anniversary in 2021, plans for the future will include providing even more enhanced services to our active-duty and veteran students and their families.