Veterans find a good fit at Howard Community College

Institution offers groups for ex-military, outreach to new students

  • Danielle Allison (left) is one of the founding members of the Student Veterans Organization at Howard Community College. She speaks to student veterans Gaines Robinson, Monica Fields and Adonis Downing.
Danielle Allison (left) is one of the founding members of the… (Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun )
November 11, 2010|By Joe Burris, The Baltimore Sun

Todd Beall signed up for classes at Howard Community College shortly after graduating from high school in 2000, but then he took an interest in the Marine Corps and subsequently enlisted, leaving behind his commitment to college.

A few years after serving in the Marines, the Columbia resident reconsidered higher education: He showed up at HCC two weeks before classes began, and the school surprised him with a past-due bill for the 12 credits he didn't take. But instead of delaying his enrollment, the school signed Beall up — again — so that he could begin on time for class.

"They pushed me through the system as quickly as they could," said Beall, who went on to pay the bill. He is among a growing group of veterans who are spreading the word about HCC, making it a popular college choice among military personnel despite being in a county with no military installation. HCC officials say that the school has steadily increased its veteran enrollment and has 303 former service members in class, up from 103 in 2007 and 186 last year.

The school has become so popular among veterans that Barbara Greenfeld, HCC vice president for enrollment services, said that this year, more than 10 percent of HCC applicants were veterans.

Also, HCC has gained honoree status in a list of the top military-friendly colleges and universities in the coming issue of Military Advanced Education magazine. The school has several services and resources for veterans, including a veterans affairs coordinator, and Beall recently founded a Student Veterans Organization, with many members who serve as mentors to incoming veterans.

Cynthia Peterka, HCC vice president of student services, said that three years ago, the school noted a surge in area veterans transitioning from active military and began working to reach out to the group, placing brochures in the community and visiting nearby Fort Meade.

HCC officials say that the recent surge in enrollment of veterans is also due in part to the post- 9/11 GI Bill of Rights. Implemented in August last year, the bill pays for tuition based on the highest cost of an in-state public institution. It also provides a basic monthly housing allowance ($1,950 for E-5 military rank in the state for those with dependents, $1,464 for those without) and an annual $1,000 stipend for books and supplies.

"Veterans don't have to work while they're in college, so everything fits into place," said Beall, 28, who said he is three credits shy of an associate's degree and plans to transfer to the University of Maryland, College Park. He said that upon returning to the area, he was amazed at how much HCC had been transformed from the small school he knew almost 10 years earlier.

The school has made accommodations for veterans inside and outside the classroom. Beall said once he pulled aside a teacher he believed was speaking to him like a student straight out of high school, and not a 28-year-old. Beall said the two had a constructive conversation and his concerns were addressed.

"The college is so helpful," Beall said.

HCC student Gaines Robinson, a former Marine from Washington, said he opted for the school after experiencing problems trying to enroll issues at Prince George's Community College.

He said that at HCC, he discovered a close-knit group of veterans and has met teachers who counsel former service members as well as staff who have family members in the military.

"We have a lot of veterans who say, 'Hey, I was a veteran,' but they don't want their status to be put out there," said Robinson. "Some of them didn't really have a good experience in the military, and others just want to stay out of the limelight.

"The purpose of our [student veterans] organization is for veterans to get together and talk about the troubles they're having at school, to share old military stories, and maybe answer questions about the GI Bill that some of us didn't know. It's our environment.

"We're going to school with traditional students, and most veterans … don't connect with the 18-, 19-year-olds. This is our way to have someone to connect with."

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