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Priority Registration Helps Students Veterans Stay On Academic Track

Matthew Johnson
Columbus State Community College
Matthew Johnson, 30, spent about four years in the Army, including nine months in Afghanistan. He is now a student at Columbus State Community College.

Registering for college classes can be complicated for the most experienced student. For veterans transitioning from the military to civilian life, the process can be daunting, and it carries significant weight.

Benefits are tied to course work. State legislation passed a couple of years ago helps make the process a little easier. We check in to see how priority registration is helping student veterans.

Matthew Johnson, 30, spent about four years in the Army. He served nine months in Afghanistan as a Cavalry Scout, a job the military describes as the "eyes and ears of the commander during battle."

Once Johnson's tour of duty was up, he decided to go to school. The transition was quick...straight from soldier to college student.

"It was actually easier going from a civilian into the military than actually getting out," Johnson noted. 

Johnson found college was a different ballgame from high school.

"It was definitely a whole change. I was out of high school for over 10 years. I had a handful of certifications from previous jobs," Johnson said. "I was really just lost."

Johnson's story is common among veterans who face a cumbersome academic system. In 2014, the state legislature mandated public universities give veterans and active duty service members first dibs on classes they need.

"That initial intake, is the key part right there. If we lose them then, we could potentially lose them down the road if it's not right the first time," said Jay Favuzzi, Columbus State Community College's Military and Veterans Service Department manager.

Favuzzi said Columbus State opens classes to its veteran students four days before general registration. He said it gives vets time to ask questions, meet with advisors and get into the right classes.

"You're learning how to navigate the academic system, choosing an institution that's a good fit. Most of our students have family, they have dependent members. So it can be very difficult," he said. "So that extra support there for transitioning a service member is needed to get all that set up to make them college ready."

Favuzzi said most of its 1,000 or so veteran students use the Post-911 G.I. Bill. Their monthly living stipends are tied to their coursework.

Johnson, who is now in his third semester at Columbus State, said he can't deviate from his plan of study, social work.  

"If we veer from that at all, we have to pay for that out of our own pocket. So if we're not able to get into the classes because they're all taken up, we're either paying out of pocket or we're just not getting the monthly pay that we need to be able to pay for rent. We're pretty much starting to get short changed all around," Johnson said. 

Ohio State University's Mike Carrell echoed Johnson.

"If they run out of those benefits and they still have a semester with us they're not going to get any money for their living expenses."

Carrell directs OSU's Office of Military and Veterans Services. He said priority registration helps keep vets on track.

"They can't just take a bunch of courses for the fun of taking them necessarily, unless they're contributing to progress toward a degree. They can certainly take them, but the G.I. Bill won't pay for them in that case," Carrell said. "

"So it's another check, and it's a way for us to help to make sure that these five classes you're signing up for, they are progressing you."

At OSU, veteran students get to register at the same time as seniors. But Carrell said the benefit is not completely a free pass. 

"It doesn't allow you to wait to the last day and bump everybody out of a class, but it does mean your window opens up earlier and gives you that opportunity to get the classes you need," he said. 

For Matthew Johnson, he said the priority registration has helped him keep sight of his academic goals.