Student veterans, University programs support military service

University Park, Pa. — The nation thanks its military veterans today (Nov. 11), and at Penn State, students and University programs have a long history of supporting military service in the United States.

Approximately 830 Penn State students have gone to active duty since Sept. 11, 2001, according to data from the University registrar. Today, more than 2,000 student veterans are enrolled University-wide at Penn State.

Some young student veterans have shared their stories in documentary videos through a Penn State course offered last spring and those videos are now being shared through Penn State Public Broadcasting's web site at For more information on the project, visit

Support for the U.S. Armed Forces and military service at Penn State dates back almost to the University's founding. Penn State was designated a land-grant college in 1863, and Congress included military training in the mission for such schools. According to University historian Michael Bezilla, during the Civil War, Penn State students participated in military drills and learned the manual of arms. Many served in the Union Army, and then returned to complete their studies, establishing a precedent for later generations of students. After the war, military training remained compulsory for all physically able male freshmen and sophomores.

During World War I Penn State established a component of the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) to help address the nation's need for trained military leaders.  Penn State's ROTC continues to provide training to students enrolled in the Armed Forces. Throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, Penn State has sought to streamline processes for students called to active duty and returning to school without complication after their active service has ended.

Penn State's Office of Veterans Programs, meanwhile, provides outreach, certification and general counseling to student veterans.

All Pennsylvania veterans are contacted by the office as they leave military service and they are offered assistance for furthering their educations. Approximately 8,000 veterans per year, and more than 350,000 over the past 30 years, have been contacted by Penn State's Office of Veterans Programs, which helps veterans enroll at Penn State or other colleges, universities and training programs. A third of veterans assisted by the office have been helped to attend other institutions.

The Office of Veterans Programs offers general counseling to University Park and World Campus students, and at other campuses adult student counselors work with student veterans. Each campus also has certifying officials to handle the reporting and monitoring process used to obtain federal educational benefits. Veterans are provided with assistance and information to secure those benefits, as well.

Most Penn State campuses are participating in the Yellow Ribbon Program, part of the Post-9/11 GI Bill.  Fully qualified veterans who have served on active duty since Sept. 11, 2001 and who currently or wish to attend Penn State can have their tuition costs covered for nearly every degree offered by the University as part of the program.

"Penn State recognizes the tremendous contributions being made by our servicemen and women and wants to ensure they have access to a Penn State education, regardless of their state of origin," said Brian Clark, director of Penn State's Office of Veterans Programs.

More details on the program can be found at

Additionally Penn State's World Campus and Pennsylvania College of Technology have been recognized and honored by national organizations as military-friendly institutions for the educational opportunities they offer to veterans.

A number of Penn State alumni have been honored for their military service. Most recently 1990 graduate Bill Cahir, a sergeant in the Marine Corps Reserves, was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart after he was killed in action by enemy fire in August in Afghanistan. Lt. Michael Murphy, a Navy SEAL and 1998 Penn State graduate, was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, the highest military award for valor, in 2007. He was killed in Afghanistan in 2005 after sacrificing himself to take and return enemy fire while providing cover and transmitting a call for help for his teammates.

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Last Updated November 18, 2010