Nadine Carson probably would’ve had to drop out of college if not for the University of Maryland University College’s Veterans Assistance Fund.
The 41-year-old ex-Air Force engineer was quickly running out of her Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits, and even though she has a full-time job at an engineering firm, she was having trouble paying her tuition. Thanks to UMUC’s Veterans Assistance Fund, she was able to make up the difference in her tuition and continue pursuing her Master’s degree in environmental management.
“This is just another way that they’re trying to help veterans get their educational goals,” she said. “The Veterans Assistance Fund has been more helpful than I could possibly ever relay.”
UMUC, which will change its name to University of Maryland Global Campus effective July 1, is far from the only university to have this sort of fund devoted to veterans in need of a little extra financial help. Many schools have created a veteran emergency fund to give veterans help beyond just tuition support, including paying their bills, child care or even groceries.
“We understand that we can help with tuition scholarships and help students apply for loans, but it doesn’t stop there,” said William Cole, assistant vice president of principal gifts with the University of Akron’s Department of Development. “These folks need additional help … We have mechanisms for helping those students.”
Veteran emergency funds come in varying forms and help students in different ways. For example, while UMUC provides aid through its fund by handing out grants, Akron’s Blair Family Foundation Veterans Emergency Fund gives its students interest-free loans that must be repaid when the veteran is able to do so.
Keith Hauk, UMUC’s associate vice president of veterans initiatives and military support, said that each student veteran at his school can receive up to $3,000 per year through the Veterans Assistance Fund. Since its inception in 2017, 31 UMUC students have been awarded grants totaling about $61,000, Hauk said.
“Even though $3,000 per academic year may not seem like a lot, in most cases it’s what they need to get them over the top and get them across the finish line with degree in hand or get them on track to a degree,” he said.
Rick Hansen, Oklahoma State University’s coordinator of student veteran academic services, helps oversee his university’s Veterans Emergency Fund. It’s another grant-based fund, and Hansen — who served as a Marine infantryman from 1974-96 — said that 14 students have taken advantage of it since it became available in 2016.
He said that OSU’s fund has helped veterans with issues ranging from a broken-down car that one vet didn’t have the savings to fix to child care services that a single mother couldn’t afford.
“There’s been a couple that we’ve allowed them to not get burdened with their financial problems,” Hansen said. “Once you start worrying about how you’re going to feed yourself and your family, it’s hard to study.”
One such student OSU helped through its Veterans Emergency Fund is Joshua Fisher, a 34-year-old former Army policeman and a rising junior studying business management. At the time, he was attending Northern Oklahoma College before an intended transfer to OSU.
Two of Fisher’s summer courses got cancelled last-minute, and his bills starting piling up. That’s when he turned to OSU’s Veteran Emergency Fund, which took care of those bills and allowed him to continue his education and successfully transfer to OSU.
“It’s a very helpful tool,” Fisher said. “It’s an instrumental resource that is available at Oklahoma State for the veterans. You never know when things are going to happen. Sometimes for veterans, their options are very limited. It’s keeping veteran students in school.”
Veteran emergency funds aren’t just available at public universities.
For example, the for-profit Grantham University also has a specific emergency fund for veterans that it started through its Veteran Support Team. Ryan Yeager, a Grantham veteran support coordinator and a former Army helicopter mechanic, said that this fund can only be used for personal or familial reasons (as opposed to academic ones) and aid usually comes in the form of $400-$500 Walmart gift cards.
Since Grantham’s fund was established in 2017, nine students have received more than $3,100 in assistance, according to Yeager.
“Sometimes we find ourselves in these situations and it’s very humbling and our pride can get in the way,” he said. “The reason you’re attending college is that you know there’s something better out there. Life happens and you found yourself in a bad spot, and we can extend a hand to you.”
There are plenty of other schools that also have a veteran emergency fund, including Jackson College’s Veteran Student Emergency Fund and the grants the University of Houston — Downtown gives out through the Hamill Foundation.
A veteran emergency fund can literally be the difference between whether a veteran can afford to earn a degree or not.
“It’s been a lifesaver,” Carson said. “I think anyone that’s eligible should be looking into it.”
By: Joshua Axelrod