College Veterans Resource Center provides services to veteran students

Katharine Lotze/The Signal
Katharine Lotze/The Signal
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News release issued by College of the Canyons

Transitioning back into civilian life is no easy feat for veterans, but for Tiffany Joa the process was made easier by her “hassle-free” experience at COC.

Honorably discharged from the U.S. Marine Corps in 2016 after 10 years of service, Joa enrolled at COC in 2016 and double majored in history and liberal arts.

“From the very beginning I was given all the information and support I needed in order to not only set up my academic plan, but also to execute it as well,” said Joa, who graduated with honors in June. “The professors and staff at this college have a genuine interest in your success and go out of their way to ensure you obtain it.”

Each year, the college’s Veteran Resource Center guides hundreds of veteran students like Joa, as well as veteran dependents, through the process of accessing their VA education and vocational benefits at COC’s Valencia and Canyon Country campuses.

“When military personnel are discharged they often don’t receive a lot of information about how to go about utilizing their benefits,” said Renard Thomas, director of the COC Veterans Resource Center. “At COC, we give them the information they need to feel empowered and make decisions. If they understand the process better, they are more likely to be successful.”

Thomas credits the college’s significant student veteran population to a combination of reputation, geography, and the high-level of service students receive on campus.

The trees, plants and wide open spaces, such as the Valencia campus Honor Grove, that add to the campus’ beauty can also be deciding factors for students.

“With the G.I. Bill, veterans are able to use their benefits to go to school anywhere they choose, but COC has an aesthetically attractive campus and is known as an extremely veteran-friendly campus, which is very appealing to our students,” Thomas said.

More than $3 million dollars in G.I. Bill housing allowance were awarded to student veterans during the 2016-17 academic year, according to data collected by the college’s Veterans Resource Center.

In all, the center served 614 veterans and veteran dependents during that same span.

“What is truly remarkable about these numbers is that it speaks volumes about how College of the Canyons is a veteran-friendly campus environment,” Thomas said.  “Our student veterans are undoubtedly contributing to our local economy by choosing to live and study in the Santa Clarita Valley.”

To better serve the needs of COC student veterans, the Veterans Resource Center has a dedicated staff on call to help students apply for VA benefits, register for classes, apply for financial aid, receive academic counseling and obtain benefit payments.

The Veterans Resource Center annually serves more than 600 veteran and veteran dependent students.

“It takes a minimum of four student service departments — Admissions & Records, Counseling, Financial Aid and Student Business Office — working closely together to process the request for a single VA payment,” Thomas said.

This unified and cross-departmental approach seems to be working. COC’s 2017 graduating class included 86 veterans and veteran dependents, which represented an all-time high at the college.

Joa, who works as a veteran student peer advisor at the College of the Canyons Veterans Resource Center, will be transferring to North Carolina State University in spring 2018 and plans to become a college history professor.

“I will miss the positive and encouraging environment that can be found and felt on campus,” Joa said.

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