Community colleges hoping they can help returning military veterans despite threat of cuts

SAN DIEGO -  

With many military service members returning home from deployment, local community colleges are continuing to work to help them continue their education.
 
On Tuesday, leaders of the region's nine community colleges gathered on the flight deck of the Midway Museum to talk about how they are handling the surge in enrollment as tens of thousands of troops return home as part of the drawdown.
 
"We have veterans centers, veterans service departments, counseling services that are devoted to veterans to help them make their way," said Melinda Nish, Superintendent and President of Southwestern Community College.
 
The area community colleges serve 21,800 active duty members, veterans or dependents. In the just the last year since the drawdown began, the three schools in the San Diego Community College District saw an 8 percent jump in veteran and active duty enrollment.
 
"After I got out of the military I needed to figure out what to do," explained six-year Navy veteran Ryan Williams.
 
Williams said community college changed his life, as he's now at San Diego State University studying business administration.
 
"I can't even explain what I might do without it," said Williams.
 
But having gone through the experience already, Williams said he has concerns about service members who are coming back with the drawdown.
 
"Some of the skills that you learn in the military don't necessarily relate to civilian life," said Williams.
 
Course options are critical for military veterans, but local community colleges face more than $30 million in mid-year trigger cuts.
 
"We cannot sustain a cut of this size without severely curtailing and eliminating programs and services," Nish said. "Our veterans have provided an amazing service to us, they deserve it. They're coming back, they need to transition back into a civilian life."
 
Whether the resources will be there for them depends on whether community college budgets can stay afloat.
 
Community college leaders said more than 10,000 students won't be able to get the classes they need if the state cuts funding.
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