Anthony Beltran entered the U.S. Army because he knew it would allow him to pursue higher education. And when he left the military in 2006, he knew the school he wanted to attend to use his educational benefits: The University of Texas-Pan American.
"I was just relieved to finally get here," said Beltran, who transferred to UT Pan American from South Texas College. "I can pay so little in tuition and get a great education."
Beltran, 29, graduated from UTPA earlier this year with a bachelor's degree in criminal justice and psychology and is working on his master's at the University in clinical psychology. He said he was grateful to faculty and staff for their support of him and his fellow veterans.
During his time at UTPA, Beltran said programs like UTPA's Veterans Services Center helped him and other veteran students acclimate to college life and inspired him to get involved in the University. He is currently the president of the SALUTE National Veterans Honor Society, of which UTPA is a charter member.
Because of the strides UTPA has made in making its veteran students' college experience much more enjoyable, the University has been named a 2012 Military Friendly School by G.I. Jobs magazine. The monthly periodical is widely read by service members looking to continue their education or enter the workforce upon exiting the military, said Beltran and UTPA officials who work with students who are veterans or are planning on serving in the military.
"I think it further garners a form of branding, it's official," Beltran said, adding he hopes this designation will prompt external sponsorships for services and other projects for veterans on campus.
Each year, G.I. Jobs compiles a list of higher education institutions that have programs and other services available to help service members transition into college and graduate. Schools that make the list are among the 20 percent of schools that are the most friendly to students currently in or just getting out of the military.
The magazine assesses about 8,000 higher education institutions throughout the country in four areas to determine whether they are "military friendly."
Specifically, the research group the magazine commissioned to compile the list looked at what financial and non-financial efforts institutions made to recruit and maintain military and veteran students, how successful schools were in recruiting and maintaining military and veteran students and what academic accreditations and other attributes the colleges and universities had.
"Being deemed military friendly/veteran friendly means that the institution has done everything possible to ensure student veterans are receiving excellent services," said Noel Ysasi, manager of UTPA's Veterans Services Center. "It also means the institution is going above and beyond to assist those who are returning from active duty and working through the transitional process into civilian life."
The Veterans Services Center certifies veteran students so they can attend school, advocates for services veterans require, provides counseling specifically for veterans, and promotes student involvement and excellence through the UTPA Veteran Student Organization and National Honor Society, as well as providing other necessities veterans need.
"It's a great honor and shows our commitment to those who have served our country and for those who continue to do so," Ysasi said, adding that UTPA has more than 700 student veterans and their dependents attending the University.
Service members looking to further their education to advance their careers in the Armed Forces, as well as those who are leaving the military and looking to go back to school, read G.I. Jobs and other related periodicals to learn what institutions of higher learning will have the best services for them and give them credit for their military experience, said Lt. Col. Maricela Alvarado, professor of military science at UTPA.
Alvarado said the military friendly school designation will help attract many more high-quality students to UTPA because the former enlistees have developed a strong work ethic and tend to earn higher grade point averages. "We become a stronger program," she said. "Now we are on the map."
For more information about Military Friendly Schools, visit militaryschools.com.
To learn more about the Veterans Services Center, call (956) 665-7934 or visit its website.