Thursday, June 14, 2012

Complete the Degree: Personal & Collaborative Approach to Working with Veterans

Guest blog by Clifton Williams, Center Director for Complete the Degree Chicago

"Transitioning back to civilian life after having served my country is enough stress without the added pressure of looking for a job or deciding a career path."

Statements like these are frequently heard by the Complete the Degree advisers who are dedicated to working with veterans. Complete the Degree is a free program that was recently launched in April with the primary goal of helping adults who did not finish college return and obtain their college degree. The Chicago Workforce Investment Council, the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning, the Illinois Education Foundation, and Women Employed, four non-profit organizations committed to adult education and success, founded the initiative.

Although the program works with all adult retuning students, Complete the Degree has services and staff specifically dedicated to serving active and inactive military personnel. At a time when so many veterans are returning home, veterans need immediate access to a variety of services and resources.

Recently, Mayor Rahm Emanuel launched a "Returning Veterans Initiative" to help find jobs for soldiers coming home to Chicago in order to lower unemployment rates for veterans. He cited figures that show that the jobless rate for veterans is three times higher than the national average. Complete the Degree adviser Donna Clayborn states, "One of the first issues many veterans discuss is their lack of access to jobs. However, many will eventually need to update their skills and qualifications in order to compete in a changing economy and our organization is committed to guiding them throughout that process."

The Mayor’s Initiative seeks to streamline the variety of services offered to veterans. Will Schmutz, Director and Community Liaison for the city’s Advisory Council on Veteran’s Affairs believes that veterans needs someone they can look in the eye and make personal contact with to help them sort through the thousands of websites and resources dedicated to veterans. Complete the Degree partners with colleges and other community-based organizations so that it can offer a variety of information and services to veterans. Although the process is not exactly one-stop shopping, it does greatly reduce the time and energy veterans will ultimately expend seeking the services they will need.

Complete the Degree’s program is a win-win project for a variety of reasons.
  1. Studies have repeatedly shown a correlation between income and education. Complete the Degree seeks to ensure that all returning students, especially those who serve our country, have the financial means to adequately support their families.
  2. A workforce with higher education levels will be in a better position to help the city of Chicago attract and retain employers. Everyone from President Obama to Mayor Emanuel believes that failure to address the talent deficit faced by employers will have negative ramifications on the local and the national level.
  3. Finally, the more income grows, the more revenue is generated in both the public and private sectors. Complete the Degree is one crucial answer to these pressing issues and the organization will continue to be a part of the solution one returning student at a time.

To learn more about Complete the Degree, click here.

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