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Witness Testimony of Hon. Jack Quinn, President, Erie Community College, Williamsville, NY

Good morning Chairman Miller, Ranking Member Filner, and to each of the Members of the Veterans Affairs Committee.

As you probably know, as a former member of this committee I spent 12 years here representing the people around Buffalo, NY and I come before you today as one who shares your passion for America’s veterans and to speak on behalf of H.R. 2433, the Veterans Opportunity to Work Act.

I am now the President of Erie Community College in Buffalo, NY and I see, on a daily basis, the value of education and training.  Therefore, I believe that preparing veterans to work in tomorrow’s job market may be the most important thing this Committee could do for those who defend us.

To that end, I am delighted that Chairman Miller has chosen to introduce a bill whose centerpiece is to re-skill the largest cohort - 632,000 - of our 1 million unemployed veterans – those who are between the ages of 35 and 60.

The Veterans Opportunity to Work Act would provide up to 12 months of Montgomery GI Bill benefits, currently about $1,426 per month, to enroll in full time training or education leading to employment in a high-demand field as determined by the Secretary of Labor.

To ensure these funds are being well-spent, the bill also requires participants to certify their attendance on a monthly basis, just as it has been done for as long as I have been around the Montgomery GI Bill.

Mr. Chairman, I would like to briefly mention a challenge that all schools face with some of our veteran students and that is the transition from wearing a uniform, often under the most difficult circumstances, to the relatively unstructured civilian student life.  I understand that Assistant Secretary Jefferson has a project underway to revise the Transition Assistance Program and I hope he considers content that will help a veteran determine whether he or she is ready for college, and choose the right school.  I also note that the bill would make TAP mandatory.  I remember from my time on the Committee, that too many service members were not attending TAP.  I would hope the other services would join the Marine Corps in making TAP mandatory.

I also welcome the bill’s reauthorization of a licensing and credentialing program.  One of the things I worry about is the ability of Erie Community College to provide the right education and training opportunities to meet the needs of local employers.  By making it clearer what a veteran needs to meet local licensing requirements, schools can structure their programs more efficiently.

One more thing about the state employment services- during my time on the Committee, I remember hearing from the Veterans Service Organizations that too often, DVOPS and LVERs were being diverted away from serving veterans to non-veteran work.  Therefore, I strongly support the bill’s provision that would prohibit full time DVOPS and LVERs from serving non-veterans.

I also see that the bill meets PAYGO requirements and in today’s fiscal climate, that too is a good thing.  But as an educator, I would like to focus on why Chairman Miller’s approach, using community colleges and tech schools, is on target.

As I speak in such strong support for this bill, I cannot reiterate enough how community colleges are a perfect fit for veteran students.  Recent numbers show that community colleges remain a top choice for veteran students using their G.I. bill educational benefits.  In a 2008 article analyzing Department of Veterans Affairs data, the Chronicle of Higher Education found that nearly 40% of veteran students used their educational benefits at a community college in FY 2007.  A more recent Chronicle article reported that five of the top fifteen institutions serving veteran students using Post 9/11 G.I. bill benefits were community colleges.  Veterans often mention the low cost of community college programs and the convenience they offer as driving factors in their decision about what institution to attend.

Veterans also often cite the fact that community colleges offer hands-on, relevant education and training programs that build on the skills they learned in the military to help them find good jobs.  In many respects, veterans are much like any other worker seeking the skills they need to transition from one job to another. Community colleges constantly work with employers to ensure that the programs they offer give students the skills they need to qualify for high-demand occupations in their area.  Community colleges are also extremely nimble in their ability to quickly create or modify educational and training programs to stay abreast of the skills needs of emerging industries.

Community colleges are striving to increase the numbers of students who leave their institutions with postsecondary educational credentials, and to be successful in that effort we must effectively serve veteran students.  Numerous studies have stressed the importance of attaining a credential to the student’s short and long-term career prospects.  H.R. 2433 is right to focus on degree or certificate attainment in a high-demand occupation.

In other respects, however, returning veterans are not like other transitional workers.  Many veterans of active duty bring with them special needs that tax the resources of our institutions as we try to address them.  Community colleges have expressed the need for greater support in serving veteran students.  The increased complexity of the veterans benefits programs and the unique physical, mental and other challenges faced by veterans of the recent wars are often cited as the reasons for this increased need.  The federal response has featured very modest efforts to meet this need, including the creation and funding of a new Centers of Excellence for Veterans success program in the Higher Education Act and an ongoing TRIO program in this area.  Private efforts in this area, including the American Council on Education’s “Serving Those Who Serve” initiative, have had some impact as well.  Increasing resources for institutions that serve significant numbers of veteran students should continue to be a top priority of the federal government.

As you know, today’s military requires a high school diploma or a general equivalency diploma to enlist.  Veterans, as the community in general, come from a variety of educational backgrounds and therefore require and desire a diverse support system which is unique to the community college environment.  At ECC our students have a variety of educational academic programs and support options to choose from.  If a student graduated from high school long ago and need to brush up their skills before taking a placement test, the RISE Program (Reading Incoming Students for Excellence) is a workshop which prepares students in math skills, English skills and college success skills.  In addition, the Pre-Collegiate Studies Program, a more in depth program 10 week program exists to build a student’s skills before they enter a classroom.  These programs are typical of the Community College environment.  Community Colleges offer developmental courses (foundation courses) to those students whose academic skills are below the proficiency necessary to begin a particular program.  Tutoring centers exist to support these efforts, as well as, to provide support during the completion of their academic program.

While community colleges have Veteran Affairs Departments, advisement and counseling centers they also develop relationships with community partners, such as the VA Hospital and Vet Centers to refer veterans for services when appropriate.

One of the most important attributes of a low cost community college education is that a student can re-enter the work force within 2 years or less by completing a 2 year degree or an even sooner if they complete one of the many certificate programs offered.  Many students transfer to four year institutions after benefiting from their community college experience.

I would also like to submit for the record two student veteran stories, in their own words.  And before I close, I would like to say again that it is my hopes that H.R. 2433 gets the support it needs to become a reality, especially for Veterans Day this year which falls on 11/11/11.

Tina Terhune

“My name is Tina Terhune, I am 34 and am originally from Buffalo, NY .  Visiting my father in Oregon, he sent me to a semester at college after graduating early from high school at age 17.  Upon completion, I was hooked to continue my education.  I joined the Navy at 19, completing 4 years active duty and 3 years of Reserves in Buffalo on Porter Ave. I knew I was headed for ECC City Campus.  I had a 10 year laid-out plan to start ECC towards my intended degree into forensics.  Taking classes at an affordable institution like ECC, my out-of-state and military classes processed into electives easier than I thought.  I hit a snag with my Military money, but was encouraged to continue.  Faculty guided me towards scholarships and awards available to me for female veterans to scholarships and awards to where I exactly served. I continue to get pointers on monetary help available to me.  Another reason I knew I was going to continue with ECC was my mother who studied here in the late 1980’s.  She brought her two daughters to class, and I paid attention. Now, I’m packing a full time schedule with my club interests. I’m secretary for the vets club at ECC. I play with the physical HyPer Club when schedule permits. I’m also trying to revitalize the Theatre Club that used to exist as that was my major in high school.   I’m glad that I didn’t think my education stopped after my military money ran out. There were other avenues I was not aware of. I’m glad for the ECC veteran advisors that kept me to steer the Course! I hope to pay it forward with other veteran students who think they cannot continue.   I’m living proof and I feel I’m working on a second chance!

Glenn A. Scott

I’m a 51-year old Army Veteran who served two terms in the United States Army.  During and after the Army I had a long bout with addictions.  With alcohol being my drug of choice, I hit several bottoms and attended many rehabs.  Upon coming to Buffalo from Martinsburg, West Virginia on January 4, 2008, I drank and roamed the streets of Buffalo homeless.  I sought minimal treatment because I wasn’t ready to give up drinking.  Then a moment of clarity hit me.  I entered my latest rehab on June 18, 2009 and have been sober ever since, with hope and ambitions today.  I’m currently enrolled in Erie Community College, and I have completed two semesters earning a 3.33 GPA. My major is Business/Office Management.  I’m the Vice President of the Veterans Club in the Student Government Association.  I have a list of names of people who have helped me get to where I’m at today- starting with the college’s president, countless faculty members, and all the teachers that I’ve had the privilege to study under.  ECC’s slogan, “Start Here, go anywhere” really caught my attention.  While roaming the streets of Buffalo, I’d see that slogan on the side of metro buses.  I’d say to myself that someday I’d like to go there.  Because anywhere is better than where I’ve been, well, that day is here.  Today I’m a full time student with many goals and ambitions.  It took a 12-step program, a higher power, and ECC to change my life, and for that, I’m forever grateful.”


Information Required by Rule X12(g)(4) of the House of Representatives

Federal Work Study Program (FWS) Yearly

Department of Education

$394, 189

Academic Competiveness Grant

Department of Education

$145,979

Federal Supplemental Edu Opp Grant Yearly

Department of Education

$335,132

Federal PELL Grant Program Yearly

Department of Education

$19,042,623

Computer Security Investigations                            

National Science Foundation 

$120,525

Naval Park Service    

National Science Foundation 

$12,500

Child Care Access Means Parents In School (CCAMPIS)                                                     

Department of Education

$64,599

Institute for Career Development                           

Department of Labor 

$274,753