by: Tina Terry Updated:
CHARLOTTE, N.C. - With the drawdown in Iraq and Afghanistan, more military veterans are returning to school.
The Department of Veterans Affairs said 1 million veterans and their dependents have enrolled in college over the past four years.
Of the schools that took part in a recent survey, nearly 71 percent of them dedicate an office or department to service veterans.
That number was at 49 percent before the GI bill kicked in in 2009.
One local college is trying to make the transition to the classroom easier for vets.
For years, Joseph Mitchell was a nurse in the U.S. Army. Now he's a student training for a different career, and it hasn't been easy.
"I think once you've been out of school a long time ... it's hard to make that transition," said Mitchell.
Members of the faculty at Central Piedmont Community College have also noticed that students like Mitchell have a very different attitude about school than traditional freshmen.
"Many veterans want the classes to proceed at a professional level. They take it very seriously, like a job," said Amy Bagwell, an English instructor.
She said those differences have caused some veterans to become frustrated in the classroom.
"Many of them tell us they feel afloat, adrift, like they don't have something to hold on to,” she said.
This year, CPCC launched a special learning community just for veterans.
It allows them to take several entry-level courses together.
"We decided let’s make this pair of classes exclusive for veterans so we can create an environment for them where they have a sense of community. They can lean on one another for information that they need and help with transition for military to civilian life."
The college is monitoring the program to decide whether it should continue, but already students are calling it a success.
"It fostered a military environment where we all understood each other and made it easier to learn," said Mitchell.