Veterans are focus of grants to 11 Tennessee colleges

Eleven Tennessee colleges will roll out new programs for student veterans in the fall thanks to $1 million in state funding that is part of a wide-ranging effort to draw more veterans to the state.

Gov. Bill Haslam's office announced the recipients of the Veteran Reconnect Grants on Monday. The schools may use the money to fund their plans, which include new staff positions, added training and computer systems geared toward meeting veterans' unique needs.

The added funding is one of the state's various efforts to court a veteran population that continues to grow as the military dramatically reduces its ranks.

Army officials earlier in the summer announced plans to cut 40,000 soldiers over the next two years. The Department of Veterans Affairs counts Tennessee as one of the states with the smallest population of young veterans.

Haslam formed the Veterans Education Task Force in 2013 to consider ways to bring more young veterans into the state for college. He announced funding for the Veteran Reconnect Grants during his State of the State address in February. The grants are part of Drive to 55, the governor's effort to boost the number of Tennesseans with a college education.

"We want Tennessee to become a destination state for veterans across the country," Mike Krause, Drive to 55 executive director, said. "We as a state are trying to leverage our resources so (veterans) can succeed."

Many of the schools plan to use some of their grant funding to enhance training for faculty and staff who work with veterans. Officials say understanding and meeting a veterans' unique challenges could be the key to retention and success.

Krause, who enrolled in college soon after returning from a tour of duty with the Army in Iraq, said transitioning from the battlefield to a college campus forced him to flip his worldview quickly.

"You go from a very structured military environment to a higher education environment that actually values a lack of structure," he said. "It's very disorienting."

Krause said most of the 11 schools that got funding proposed programs that would help ease veterans' transitions during their first days and weeks on campus.

Dozens of schools met in March at Austin Peay State University to sculpt policies and projects that would form the bedrock of their grant requests. That group will continue to meet for five years to discuss veterans' education in Tennessee.

Here are the schools receiving the grant: Belmont University, Lipscomb University, Middle Tennessee State University, Volunteer State Community College, Chattanooga State Community College, Columbia State Community College, East Tennessee State University, Jackson State Community College, Maryville College, Northeast State Community College and University of Memphis.

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