TOLEDO – Adam Fisher isnt your typical college freshman.
At 25, hes older than most of his classmates. Hes married, too. And while most of his fellow students spent the past couple years in high school, Fisher was dodging bullets and roadside bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Now a civilian, Fisher is trying to make the transition from the battlefields to the classrooms of the University of Toledo.
About two months into a new mission, he is far from alone. Some 1 million veterans and their dependents have enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities over the past four years, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. This influx of veterans has come with the drawdown of U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan and more generous financial incentives that generally cover a veterans tuition, housing and books.
Many veterans face an array of challenges in making the transition to college life.
Some are medical. Fisher, who heard the screams of a soldier burning to death and had a buddy die in his arms, participates in group therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder. He also has some hearing loss.
Its hard for me to be around so many people, he said. I dont like it. It makes me feel very uncomfortable.
Other challenges are academic. Veterans often have to sharpen their math, reading and study skills after being away from school for so long.
They face cultural hurdles, too. While many other freshmen are testing their independence after moving away from home for the first time, some of the veterans back in school are supporting a family, working evenings and weekends.
Now, increasing numbers of colleges and universities are taking concrete steps to help them make the transition, the University of Toledo among them.
Nearly 400 veterans, including Fisher, are attending class this fall at the school. President Lloyd Jacobs, a former Marine, said they bring strength to our culture, bring strength to our university thats unparalleled.
The American Council on Education says about 71 percent of some 700 colleges and universities responding to a recent survey had an office or department dedicated exclusively to serving veterans. Before the Post-9/11 GI Bill kicked in, a 2009 survey put that percentage at 49 percent.
About two-thirds had clubs or organizations composed of veterans, double from the 2009 survey.
At UTs veterans center, a clearinghouse for veterans or their dependents, students have a go-to person in military liaison Haraz Ghanbari, a lieutenant in the Navy Reserve.
When Mick Grantham, 43, enrolled at Toledo after back and neck problems forced him out of the Army, he plowed through his savings waiting for his disability benefits to kick in.
Ghanbari arranged for the local American Legion to provide Grantham with a $500 grant. He pointed Grantham to a job opening with the universitys grounds crew. And he nominated Grantham to be honored as hero of the game at a recent Toledo football game.
Grantham is an example of the age and cultural divide that some student veterans face. He strongly believes his time in Afghanistan served an important purpose, and it has bothered him to hear some of the younger students criticize the war during his government studies class.
I told them, You know, I lost nine friends. Ive lost two since Ive been home. Those guys didnt complain. We did our job. You cant tell me theres no reason for us to be there.
Memory loss poses a problem for John McCarter, 33, a former staff sergeant in the Army who left with a medical discharge after serving 13 years. He has a traumatic brain injury and wears a hearing aid as a result of a roadside bomb that exploded under a vehicle he was riding in.
I usually have to write things down. If I dont write them down, Im probably not going to remember it, said McCarter, who hopes to become a sports journalist.
Despite challenges, some veterans believe their military service gives them an edge in the classroom.
I work 10 times harder than what I did in high school, said Fisher, who wants to get into the medical profession, perhaps as a pediatric nurse. The Army gave me a sense of self-respect and confidence, and they really show you hard work does pay off.