West Virginia veterans getting boost to pursue education

CHARLESTON, W. Va. — State military veterans who want to earn college degrees are getting a boost from West Virginia Bridging the Gap, a program designed to open doors to higher education for both veterans and non-veterans alike.

Dr. Patrick Crane, director of the program, told the interim Veterans’ Affairs committee that the goal is to have 1,300 students enrolled in and completing coursework over the next three years. Programs will focus on energy, advanced manufacturing, information technology and construction and building trades.

While each community and technical college in the state will have a “specialty” program, every program will be available at each of the 10 community and technical

colleges around the state. For instance, Bridgemont, in the Kanawha Valley will lead in advanced manufacturing, while Pierpont in north-central West Virginia will take the lead in energy and Blue Ridge in Martinsburg will guide information and technology.

New River Community and Technical College, with campuses in Beckley, Lewisburg and Summersville will not have a lead role in any career pathway program, but will participate in all of it, Crane said after the meeting. The leadership roles are based on geography and established programs, he said.

“The other goal is to build better networks between the community colleges,” Crane said. “Transferrability,” he said, is a critical issue for adult higher education, as certificates become associate degrees and those degrees are advanced to bachelor’s degrees.

Remedial language and math instruction can be directly embedded into students’ regular course of study instead of separate classes, Crane said.

“One of the reasons students drop out is they don’t see the point, they don’t see the connection between remedial courses and the careers they’re trying to be successful in,” he continued.

Veterans and other adult students will be able to fast-track their degree programs by getting credit for life skills they already have, Crane said, using the example of a medic who could get an EMT certificate quickly.

Overall, Crane said, the program will use three strategies:

n Career pathways that will develop new certificate and degree programs to meet state workforce needs and the needs of employers.

n Academic instruction that is aligned with national industry standards.

n Student support strategies that target recruitment, offer web-based career planning and assist with job placement, as well as academic advising and peer counseling.

Crane said each community and technical school has a veteran advocate in place, but job descriptions vary from school to school.

The grant-funded program will hire a coordinator by February to help recruit state veterans and residents into the program., Crane said. That coordinator will travel around the state, but will also supervise a number of peer counselors at each school so that veterans will have someone readily available to answer questions and provide one-on-one guidance.

The $25 million grant was provided by the Department of Labor.


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