For the first time in many years, there won’t be a summer program to help Montana veterans prepare for college.
The Montana Veterans Upward Bound Project http://vubmt.com/ at Montana State University Billings will temporarily close June 7 and reopen Sept. 2 because of problems with federal funding of the program, said Luke Petriccione, VUB director.
Between 50 and 75 men and women, most of whom have never enrolled in college before, have each summer attended VUB preparatory classes in math, writing, computers and study skills so they will be up to speed when classes begin in the fall, Petriccione said.
Veterans also receive career and academic counseling, which helps them decide what classes to take when they enroll in colleges and universities.
Classes are given at MSU Billings and several other campuses around the state, as well as online.
U.S. Department of Education grants funding the program go through Montana State University Northern in Havre but the state VUB is administered by offices at Montana State University Billings.
The program received a five-year grant in 2007 with a two-year extension to 2014. It recently was notified that it will receive another five-year grant beginning September 2014.
But last fall, the program’s annual letter from the Department of Education notifying it how much it would receive for the year came up $200,000 short of what it should have received under the current grant.
Petriccione said that the department apparently mixed up the amount the program was to receive each year during this grant cycle and the future grant.
The new grant will be smaller because the program will be serving fewer veterans. The Department of Education now requires that 25 percent of VUB students graduate from college in six years.
Before, VUB could accept most veterans who thought they might be interested in college. Now it must screen applicants and chose those who are serious about attending and graduating from college, Petriccione said.
In the past, the Montana VUB has served as many as 230 students each year and now will be taking 155 students.
When Petriccione notified the Department of Education of the grant funding error, he was told it was an “administrative error,” leading him to believe it would be corrected.
“We kept assuming we’d get a new awards letter,” he said.
Even with extensive help from U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., Petriccione couldn’t get the matter resolved.
The decrease in funding is not tied to sequestration approved by Congress, because the VUB funds had been approved before sequestration went into effect.
Reduced funding for this program also has no effect on enrolled students receiving money to attend college through the GI Bill, which is under the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Six full-time VUB staff members and 10 to 15 part-time faculty around the state will be laid off and hired back in the fall if they wish, Petriccione said.
Petriccione is concerned that closing the office will break the momentum of some veterans seeking an education. If they are getting out of the service now and want to start school, their circumstances may have changed by fall.
Because the program recruits during the summer, that might be hampered, too.
The staff will check the VUB phones and email during the summer.