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Troops to College

 Sacramento State President Alexander Gonzalez and University Foundation Chair George Crandell have announced a campaign to raise $100,000 for scholarships and other needed support services for veterans, active-duty military personnel and their dependents who are struggling to cover the expenses of obtaining a college degree.

The Troops to College program was created to provide scholarships and enhance support services to help our nation’s veterans return home to civilian life and obtain a college education, but the state provided no funding when the program was created by the Legislature in 2006.

President Gonzalez and Chair Crandell challenged the University community to take the lead in raising money to finance Troops to College. The University Foundation at Sacramento State answered the call and is raising funds to provide $1,000 each for scholarship recipients. Chair Crandell led the way with a personal gift of $25,000 and SAFE Credit Union has given $10,000 toward the effort.

“I wasn’t expecting the level of support the Foundation gave us,” says Jeff Weston, Sacramento State’s Veterans Affairs coordinator. “Foundation members adopted Troops and are dedicated to ensuring its successful implementation. They are committed to helping our veterans and military personnel.”

The University has more than 1,000 eligible students. The federal GI Bill covers some of the veterans’ costs, but the burden of paying for many other items falls on the students’ shoulders. Veterans also are older than the typical college student, frequently hold jobs, have families and other obligations, putting even more pressure on their time and commitments.

Sacramento State senior Daisy Enriquez moved into the residence halls after serving in the Army, which included a tour of duty in Kuwait.

“That was hard because there weren’t that many 24-year-olds in the residence halls,” Enriquez says.

Junior Thomas Kroom, a former Army staff sergeant with the 82nd Airborne Division, found it difficult to be without the support and backup of his fellow soldiers. “The biggest thing was missing that brotherhood.”

Both of them faced financial hurdles as well. The GI Bill pays $1,034 a month, and recipients have to decide just where they’re going to spend it.

Most of Enriquez’ first payments went to cover the residence hall costs. Kroom’s benefits cover school fees, plus some of his rent. The two veterans are grateful for the help but need to work in between courses to make ends meet.

And GI Bill benefits don’t kick in until October for veterans starting school in September, leaving them facing another dilemma. “Due to the delays in the GI Bill benefits and services, students can’t afford to buy their books until a month into school,” Weston says. “This and other burdens create obstacles these students shouldn’t have to overcome. The Troops to College scholarship will help them meet their financial obligations.”

Sacramento State’s commitment to support veterans and their families doesn’t stop with that. Other programs are already in the works to assist veterans, such as a special Summer Bridge Program that would help them adjust to the academic environment.

Enriquez and Kroom note there are special difficulties for veterans on campus. Enriquez has been asked if she’s ever killed anyone, and Kroom says it’s difficult to sympathize with complaints of classes or grades after having made life and death decisions. “Even I might complain now and again, but those things are so miniscule,” Kroom says.

With the scholarships, the Summer Bridge Program and other planned efforts, Weston believes Sacramento State will become the program’s standard bearer. “We want to be that campus that brings the wider Troops to College vision alive,” he says. “And I think we’re in a really great position to do it.”

For more information on Troops to College, visit www.calstate.edu/veterans/index.shtml. To contact Sacramento State’s Veterans Affairs Office, call 278-7893 or visit www.csus.edu/admr/vets. To support the Troops to College program, call Jody Policar at 278-4168 or go to https://webapps1.csus.edu/ua_development/form1.asp.