San Diego and Imperial County community colleges: serving those who served their country

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Innovative educational programs at military bases. Myriad initiatives to boost student success among veterans. Private lounges where current and former military can have a quiet place to talk, study, or relax. The San Diego and Imperial Counties Community Colleges Association (SDICCCA) is doing everything it can to ensure that the men and women who have served in our armed forces are treated right.

“SDICCCA has a long history of serving those who have served us,” said Victor Jaime, superintendent/president of Imperial Valley College, who serves as SDICCCA President. “Every community college in the San Diego and Imperial County region works closely with each other to provide the services that veterans deserve.”

That commitment will be highlighted during this year’s Veteran’s Day-related activities, with events ranging from employment workshops, discussions, art exhibitions and veterans center open houses.

The San Diego, Palomar, Grossmont-Cuyamaca, Southwestern, MiraCosta, and Imperial Valley college districts that make up SDICCCA serve about 10,000 active duty military and military veterans annually, and their efforts go beyond the campus doors. Palomar and MiraCosta colleges offer classes at Camp Pendleton for active-duty military. San Diego Miramar College offers on-base classes at MCAS Miramar, and San Diego City College offers on-base classes at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot and Naval Base San Diego. And the San Diego Community College District’s Military Education Program serves more than 13,000 officers and enlisted personnel at bases across the United States.

Among the efforts at the college districts in the region:

  •  The San Diego Community College District served 2,455 veterans in the spring of 2015, a number equal to 5 percent of the district’s total student enrollment, and all of its campuses have veterans service centers providing a bevy of educational resources and ample space to study. The City College Veterans Service Center, for example, is a place where student veterans can study, socialize, or simply escape school and life pressures for a while. Attendees also receive peer support, mentoring, and referrals to other services available to military veterans. It’s a place to work with tutors, and hear speakers from a variety of community agencies and resources on issues of interest to veterans.

In addition, the District’s Military Education Program is contracted to instruct more than 13,000 active-­duty personnel at Corry Station, Florida; Great Lakes, Illinois; Meridian, Mississippi; and San Diego, California. Locally, the San Diego Community College District’s Military Education Program is among the subcontractors that have been hired to train sailors in operating the technologically advanced Littoral Combat Ship.

  •   Palomar College, established in 1946, has been serving former military members since its first class of 100 students included many veterans returning from World War II.  Last academic year, the college served 3,031 active-duty, active reserve, National Guard, and veteran students.

The college has one of the longest, continuously-serving veterans services offices in the state – an office that was first established in the 1960s. Palomar College also operates an Educational Center at the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps base, where active duty personnel, their dependents, as well as civilians can pursue a full range of lower division coursework up to and including completion of certificates and associate degrees.  On the main campus in San Marcos, the college operates a full-service Veterans Office along with a Veteran’s Resource Center, the latter of which provides veteran students with direct access to tutoring, computers, and a space to gather with fellow veterans. Additional services provided by the college include tutoring, personal counseling, a resource guide to community services, resume workshops, career services, job fairs, food assistance, textbook assistance, tutoring, and Extended Opportunities programs for students who are educationally, socially or economically disadvantaged.

  •  The Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District enrolled 1,173 veterans at its two campuses in the fall of 2015. Through Cuyamaca College’s V.E.T.S. program (Veterans Education Transition Services), veterans are provided a roadmap for student success with a focus on a smooth transition from the military to college life.

Both Cuyamaca and Grossmont colleges have Veteran Affairs or Veteran Services offices serving as a liaison between college and the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. The colleges provide certification for educational benefits provided through the VA, including Post 9/11 GI Bill, the Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment program and Dependents Educational Assistance. In addition to certification for education benefits, both colleges provide counseling and student clubs tailored to veterans. Veterans resource centers provide a central entry point for veterans as they transition from the military into the college communities, offering a collaborative delivery of student services such as those tailored for students with disabilities and those needing counseling or access to assistive technologies.

  • Southwestern College has experienced a 93 percent increase in the number of veterans served since 2009-2010 and now has an enrollment of 1,500 veterans – a figure that does not include dependents using veteran benefits. The Southwestern College Student Veteran Organization hosts several high-profile activities throughout the year. Such activities include a week-long celebration of Veterans’ Day, fundraisers to support the Warrior Foundation, Toys for Tots, “Deck the Halls” at Naval Medical Center San Diego and monthly meetings with guest speakers. The Student Veteran Organization has also created partnerships with local veterans’ agencies and Student Veteran Organizations at colleges and universities throughout San Diego County. Through the Southwestern College Student Veteran Organization network, veterans are able to trade textbooks and access academic tutoring.

In addition, Southwestern College’s Veterans Services Department offers emergency book and cash loans, and Southwestern College’s counselors help veterans and their dependents create a Student Education Plan to ensure they are on an academic path that fulfills veteran education benefits requirements and their educational and career goals.

  •  MiraCosta College recently opened a new 1,600-square-foot Veterans Information Center at its Oceanside Campus that will serve about 1,500 veterans, family members and active- duty military members enrolled at the school. The center is staffed by peer advisors who are veterans themselves. Students can access Veterans Affairs services, meet with a veteran-dedicated academic counselor, work in a computer lab and interact with fellow veterans in their own student lounge. Additional services provided by the college include vet-to-vet tutoring, career services, food assistance, textbook loans, disable student and Extended Opportunities programs for students who are educationally, socially or economically disadvantaged.

The MiraCosta Community College District, which includes part of the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps base, has been a longtime partner with the military, providing a number of educational opportunities to members of the military and their families.


  • Imperial Valley College this fall will debut its Military and Veteran Success Center to assist the 101 veterans enrolled at the college as well as their dependents. The center offers a place where students with military backgrounds can get help from a designated veterans’ counselor in developing their educational plans and get other academic advice. Staffing includes a counselor, along with a student success specialist, Esther Frias, who is a U.S. Army National Guard veteran who served in Afghanistan. Her role is to coordinate a peer tutoring and mentoring program and doing community outreach, encouraging veterans to enroll at Imperial Valley College.

The center houses three computer stations for students to use so they can work on projects, register for classes and print their papers and notes. A lounge area is available for students to come in and relax or wait in between classes, a place where they can converse with fellow students who also are veterans. The center’s theme is AT*EASE, an acronym for Academic Transition and Employment Acquisition for Student Excellence.

San Diego and Imperial counties is home to some 90,000 Navy personnel, approximately 35,000 Marine Corps personnel, and 22,500 Department of Defense civilian personnel. More than 240,000 veterans call the region home.




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