Rachael Brash

Rachael Brash, director of University of Mary Worldwide, is heading the Veterans Upward Bound program on campus to assist veterans with college prep courses through low-income grants.

North Dakota has expanded a 40-year veterans' education program to help more earn college degrees and certifications.

The federally-funded Veterans Upward Bound program has been expanded and replaced by the state-funded Veterans Educational Training.

With state funding, the program has gone from being limited to low-income, first-generation college students to helping almost all veterans across the state intending to go to college, Project Coordinator Jeri Vaudrin said. The only eligibility requirements are that they have served for 180 days or have been deployed if they are in the National Guard.

The state Legislature gave VET $274,000 for the biennium. The program is not eligible for another federal grant for at least four years, Vaudrin said.

Vaudrin said the state funding covered 60 percent of the program’s request. Previously the program had hubs only at North Dakota State University and the University of North Dakota. To help veterans across the state, it had to open other university hubs.

VET made agreements with Minot State University and the University of Mary to cover the western half of the state. Vaudrin said the program also is in talks with another western North Dakota college to house a hub.

In a quiet back hallway of the Benedictine Center at the University of Mary, there is a computer lab that can serve several veterans once a week when they begin completing online college preparatory courses, said Rachael Brash, director of University of Mary Worldwide. The courses cover subjects like computers, English, basic math, science, time management and study skills — everything they will need to succeed in college.

There also will be a University of Mary work study student to offer technical assistance, Brash said.

Vaudrin said the support is needed because often the veterans don’t have the skills to teach themselves about computers. They may also be struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder or focus issues, and it’s too difficult for them to stay self-motivated enough to complete the courses at home on their own.

“We’ve found they need to be able to go somewhere to get help,” Vaudrin said. “It makes sure they don’t get stuck and keeps them moving at a steady pace.”

At the university, there also are personnel who can refer students to other veterans services. If they have trouble with specific subject, like math, the staff can refer them to math courses, Brash said.

The university hubs give the veterans an opportunity to be on a campus and experience campus life, Vaudrin said.

Brash said the university will give the veterans an orientation, showing them where to park, get coffee and other campus resources.

“They provide the space and person; We provide the program,” Vaudrin said, with the hope the veterans will continue on the track of higher education.

Brash said the veterans she has worked with at the university often have no college credit or little credit and are looking to complete their degree. If they already have some college credit, the college prep courses serve as a refresher.

Ages of the veterans vary from those in their 20s to those in their 50s and 60s. Many are working while seeking a degree, often in a job they don’t want to do long term. Many also have families. Brash said VET could help them realize they can go back to school.

Often veterans are hesitant to jump back into college, Brash said. VET provides them with an option. The university will help participating veterans with the college admissions process and create a degree plan for them. They will be able to see what environment they work best in, a large university or a smaller local college.

Vaudrin said for those veterans who are older and have gotten to the point they have physical limitations, there also are certification programs if they don’t want to go back for a four-year degree.

“The main point is to get them into school and get them finished,” she said.

Vaudrin said VET also works with homeless veterans to bring them back into the workforce.

“This was an easy decision for the university,” said University of Mary spokesman Tom Ackerman.

The online courses began in January. The University of Mary hub will be running this spring. Brash said she is expecting eight to 10 participants but can double that within the year.

There is no cost to veterans for the program. The state funds cover instructors, materials and any staff as needed.

There is no maximum amount of students the program can help because it’s online. Vaudrin wants to help at least 120 statewide, but hopes it can reach closer to 200 veterans. She hopes the program will be able to get state funding on a more permanent basis if the program can prove a need for the service.

“It’s about trying everything we can to help these guys,” she said. “I feel they deserve nothing less ... This is something we need to step up and do.”

Reach Jessica Holdman at 701-250-8261 or jessica.holdman@bismarcktribune.com.

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