By Wayne Boykin II
For more than 38 years, Columbia College has provided educational opportunities to those who are affiliated with the U.S. military. Now among the top military-friendly colleges, Columbia College has now become one of the leading colleges in the nation serving the men and women of the armed forces.
According to President Gerald Brouder Columbia College was a charter member of The Service-member Opportunity College program (SOC), which began in 1972. Ramona McAfee, assistant dean for Military and Federal Programs, said, “This program allows servicemen and women the ability to take classes toward a degree and not worry about not being able to finish it in one place.” This program is helpful because many servicemen and women are assigned to a base for just two to three years.
Participation in SOC marked the start of the long relationship between Columbia College and the U.S. military. Thirty-eight years later, Columbia College has campuses on 18 military bases all across the nation from Whidbey Island in Washington State to Fort Drum in New York and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. According to McAfee, Columbia College serves over 25,000 students in its Day, Evening, Nationwide, and Online campuses and one-third of the students are military affiliates. This includes active duty service members, spouses, children of service members, veterans, National Guard and the reserves.
The strong relationship with the U.S. armed forces is due in part to the leadership of the college. Brouder said, “The vice president for Adult Higher Education, four deans and 12 of 34 campus directors are retired military.” Brouder also is retired military. McAfee said, “I think it shows a strong belief from the highest levels of the college leadership ladder that serving the U.S. military community is the right thing to do."
Columbia College does not just provide service members with a place to learn but also a way to pay for an education. The college offers many financial services to the military community, both federally and college funded. Some of these programs include the post 9/11 GI Bill, Yellow Ribbon, Compass Foundation and other financial services. Columbia College also has special ways to help the military community complete their educations. Brouder said, “Our acceptance of up to 60 credit hours of nontraditional credit towards our 120-hour bachelor's degree programs demonstrates flexibility not found at most educational institutions.”
Vanessa Teamoh, an Army veteran and Columbia College online student, said she chose Columbia College because “it had a lot of things I was looking for.” She was stationed in Fort Drum, N.Y., and saw the campus on the base. However, she was unable to pursue her education there because her schedule as a pharmaceutical technician was very hectic. She ended her active duty in March 2003 and is enjoying the convenience of the eight-week classes Columbia College offers online. She is also able to use the Montgomery GI Bill to help pay for her education.
In 2009, Columbia College opened the Ousley Family Veteran Services Center on the Main Campus. McAfee calls it a “one-stop resource.” She hopes the center will grow to include a lounge area where military-affiliated students can have a place to converse with their peers. In addition, the Student Government Association accepted the constitution of Columbia College Student Veterans, a new club and organization at the Day Campus.
Brouder said that despite the college’s national recognition as a military-friendly institution, “This does not mean the college will become a military college. The basis for the Nationwide and Online campuses is the liberal arts and sciences which is found on the Main Campus.”
Photos of Military Day at Columbia College on May 21, 2009, provided by the Public Relations Department.