TRAVERSE CITY — Sarah Bean drove a military truck in Iraq and suffered nothing worse than hearing bullets zing near her passenger window in the dead of night.
She returned to Traverse City a few years ago and recently decided on a social work career — to support her two young children and for her own personal growth.
The Northwestern Michigan College outreach staff made signing up for classes easy, said Bean, a single mother.
“I probably wouldn’t be in college if it weren’t for Scott and the other people who work in the office,” she said.
Bean, 26, referred to Scott Herzberg, who filled a newly created position last fall as “point of contact” for veterans, reservists, and military families. NMC administrators gave Herzberg a blank slate to welcome veterans, and he’s taken on the job with zeal.
Herzberg points to NMC’s record enrollment this spring of well over 200 veterans, twice the number since 2009.
He credits NMC’s waiver of enrollment fees. His office also helps vets connect to the area’s myriad of agencies for help. And there’s a new local chapter of Student Veterans of America to promote a sense of camaraderie.
All this has pushed NMC into the top 15 percent of the country’s colleges most friendly to veterans, a G.I. Jobs ranking.
“I want to be in the top 1 percent,” Herzberg said.
By next fall, he wants a place on campus where vets and others can relax, Skype, or work on computers. Right now, some vets sit in their cars to decompress.
“That works in the warm weather with your windows down and a Jimmy John’s,” he said. “On Jan. 5, at two below, it’s not so great.”
Veterans are returning from Iraq and Afghanistan by the tens of thousands and are enrolling in college, thanks to the G.I. bill. Yet 88 percent of the 800,000 veterans now enrolled will drop out in their first year, according to the American Council on Education.