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Veteran education a priority at Creighton

Jeremy OrescaninJeremy Orescanin says he “fell in love” with Omaha while serving with the U.S. Air Force at Offutt Air Force Base, which is saying a lot since this six-year veteran grew up in sunny southern California.

Today, he’s studying social work and criminal justice at Creighton University, two of nine academic programs within the Department of Cultural and Social Studies, with an eye to becoming a parole officer. His six years of military service, combined with Creighton’s willingness to supplement the educational benefits Orescanin earned through a post-9/11 G.I. Bill, mean his rent and tuition costs are covered for the full four years of his bachelor’s degree.

The program that delivers those benefits is known as the U.S Department of Veterans Affairs’ Yellow Ribbon program, which Creighton embraces and supports.

That embrace reflects a long history of Creighton’s alumni defending the nation’s ideals on foreign battlefields. While Creighton was still a young institution when the United States entered World War I in 1917, its roots were deep when beginning in 1941 it committed 2,645 of its men and women to fight in World War II, losing 132 of them before war’s end.

Jennifer Austin, program coordinator in Creighton’s Office of Military and Veterans Affairs, oversees the University’s participation, which is a big reason why Creighton is nationally recognized as a military-friendly school.

The University has been granted a “Best College” ranking from the Military Times; has been designated a “Military Friendly School” by militaryfriendly.com; holds a “Top University” designation from Military Advanced Education and Transition; and is ranked a 2020 “Best College for Veterans” by U.S. News & World Report.

Created in the wake of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Yellow Ribbon program, which is used in conjunction with the Post-9/11 GI Bill, pays military veterans who meet certain requirements up to $25,162.14 in tuition and fees for the current academic year, an amount that typically increases by about $900 for every subsequent academic year for up to a maximum of 36 months.

While that is a significant amount, Creighton wished to make it even easier for military veterans and their families to attend the University and signed on to a provision that sees the VA provide up to an additional $12,000 per academic year if the participating university does the same. Creighton’s commitment to dropping up to $12,000 a year into the pot raised the total educational annual tuition and fees benefit to just over $49,000, which exceeds the cost of an academic year Creighton.

Austin says 244 students are currently enrolled at Creighton under the terms of the Yellow Ribbon program. Of those, 93 are pursuing undergraduate studies, while 151 are pursuing graduate or professional degrees. The School of Medicine joined the program this year, adding $5,000 to the Post-9/11 GI Bill’s $25,162.14 annual subsidy, which triggered a matching $5,000 contribution from the VA for a total annual benefit of almost $35,000.

Austin says “thousands” of veterans have used Yellow Ribbon to attain a Creighton education since the program was signed into law on June 30, 2008.

“One of the most exciting pieces of the Post-9/11 GI Bill legislation is that veterans and active duty services members who choose not to use the benefit themselves may assign the benefit to their spouse or children to help cover college expenses,” she says. “We have had many spouses and children use the Post-9/11 GI Bill and Yellow Ribbon program here at Creighton.”

Orescanin said it has made his education possible. “I found my passion, which is serving and working with people through the Air Force,” he says. “My country has provided me with an opportunity to go to school, which is a great opportunity, and I am just super pleased with Creighton and all the classes that I have taken.”

Austin, he said, takes care of all the financial details of his Yellow Ribbon scholarship, leaving him free to focus on his studies.

“She is pretty amazing,” he says. “She handles everything. I don't have to worry about all the finances, or who's getting paid how much — she handles all of that and totally frees me up.”

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