California State University, Long Beach
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Veterans Seek Varied Careers

Published: November 14, 2016

Veteran areas of study chart

Veterans attending CSULB are branching out in all career directions, said Director of Veterans Services Marshall Thomas.

“The degrees veterans seek at CSULB run completely across the board,” said Thomas, a veteran of the United States Marine Corps and a three-time graduate of CSULB. The percentages of veterans in various colleges include Health and Human Services at 25 percent, Education at 22 percent, Liberal Arts at 21 percent, Business Administration at 17 percent, Natural Sciences and Mathematics at 7 percent, Continuing and Professional Education at 5 percent and the Arts at 3 percent.

In the spring 2016, there are 560 veterans and 569 dependents at CSULB. The gender division works out to 86 percent male and 14 percent female.

“CSULB draws this kind of response from veterans because we are a great university with a great reputation,” he said. “Think of 90,000 people applying to enroll. We’re a popular university. We have a great connection to Long Beach City College but our network reaches beyond them to campuses like Orange Coast College. We have great relationship with the veteran population.

“Our vets are drawn to professions where they can help,” he added. “They seek purpose and look for opportunities to continue serving. That is why there is a big draw to programs like nursing and criminal justice. That’s why I think the Health and Human Services veteran enrollment is larger than the others.”

Veterans Services plays a big role in drawing veterans to CSULB because just getting access is not good enough, according to Thomas.

“If students don’t have success, we’re are not helping anybody,” he said. “After outreach comes academic support. We employ an advisor who makes sure veterans take the right courses. If veterans find themselves facing academic probation, we try to make sure they get the help they need. Plus, Veterans Services is where all veterans come for their GI Bill benefits certified.”

He also pointed with pride to the VET NET Ally program, an awareness program for faculty and staff to educate them and others in the campus community about military service and about student-veterans in general. The four-hour seminar offered once a semester profiles the accomplishments and successes of military members and the challenges that some student-veterans may face in their transition to student life.

Veteran feedback has been positive.

“Generally speaking, I think CSULB veteran students are pleased with the office of Veterans Services because of what they are not saying,” Thomas explained. “They visit our office all the time but they do not complain. They do what all students do–they study. They do what students do to be academically successful. I am thrilled to work behind the scenes to make sure their benefits are certified and they are getting the academic support they need.”

Thomas’ experience as a former Marine helps to bridge the veteran-student gap, noting that there are many vets who simply want to talk to another veteran.

“People have told me they feel better for knowing there is a veteran in the office of Veterans Services,” he said. “There is no secret handshake but there is a connection.” He pointed to the office’s front counter staff and explained that they all are students who use the GI Bill. “Some are veterans and some are dependents of veterans,” he said. “It is very helpful that they form the first line of contact. They are close in age and use the same benefits the veterans use.”

There are advantages to dealing with veterans in Long Beach and despite the campus’ excellent relationship with the Veterans Administration (VA) Hospital next door, CSULB can be like a different country in that they are a federal government agency whereas the campus is a state entity.

“Sometimes we speak different languages,” he said. “But the VA wants to help CSULB veterans and this office connects with them.”

One way Veterans Services does that is through the Vet Success on Campus program that sponsors a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Counselor to assist with federal veterans benefits. CSULB is one of 94 colleges and universities across the U.S. to have this program, and the campus shares a counselor, Lois Daz, with Long Beach City College (LBCC).

“It is an effective way to bridge the transfer gap,” said Thomas. “Now LBCC students have a connection with an employee who does not work for CSULB but is part of the veteran community. It offers a useful parallel to the Long Beach Promise. We are directing people from one institution to the next.”

The biggest issue isn’t the veteran already attending CSULB, but rather student veterans who want to come to the campus, according to Thomas.

“We spend a great deal of time talking, emailing and explaining how veterans can enroll at CSULB,” he said. “It is a lengthy application process. I can’t say enough about the enrollment management committee who created admission avenues for local high school students as part of the Long Beach Promise because they made the very important decision to include veterans and service members in the local student admissions pathway.”

Thomas’ primary concern is student success, specifically graduation rates.

“My biggest concern is that the people who come to our school leave for one reason and one reason only–because they completed their academic goals and graduated,” he said. “The better we help them do that, the better we serve veterans.”