Columbia College in top 20 of military-friendly colleges

Friday, December 5, 2008 | 6:23 p.m. CST
Jutsin Lawzano, a Columbia resident and Columbia College student, takes online courses because he is stationed at Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo as a military police officer in traffic accident investigations.

COLUMBIA – Columbia College has been named one of the nation’s top 20 military-friendly institutions by a national magazine that covers education issues for members of the armed services.

The magazine, Military Advanced Education, invited Columbia College to submit a 100-word essay explaining in what ways the school is military-friendly.

Columbia College has 34 campuses nationwide including the Columbia campus and a campus in Guantanamo Bay. Of these campuses, 17 are on military bases. About 33 percent of Columbia College’s approximately 25,000 students are military, dependents of military or veterans.

Mike Randerson, a veteran and vice president for adult higher education at Columbia College, said the recognition is particularly gratifying because the honor highlights the mission of the school. But it didn't just happen overnight.

“We started in adult higher education because of the military," Randerson said. "We feel we’ve worked hard to serve the military over these years and to have military friendly policies. It validates who we try to be as an institution.”

The school awards credit for military experience and has a lenient policy for military-related withdrawals. The school accepts credit from programs like the College Level Examination Program and offers 19 online degree programs.

At the Columbia campus, a partnership with MU’s ROTC programs enables Columbia College students to complete any ROTC commissioning.

This summer, Columbia College also created a new position to act as a liaison between the military and the school. Ramona McAfee, the new assistant dean for military and federal programs, said she was willing to move to Columbia after living in Alaska for almost 40 years because of the reputation of the school.

“Serving veterans is just super critical now, at this point, now that President Bush signed the post 9/11 GI bill," she said. "Just as importantly, I’m very excited about what we can do for spouses.”

For military spouses, there is a scholarship that lets them take their first in-seat class for free. This fall, for the first time, military spouses who wanted to take in-seat classes received a tuition discount of 20 percent.

Justin Lawzano attended Moberly Area Community College before transferring to Columbia College and moving to Columbia. He is now stationed at Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo and takes online courses while working as a military police officer. He chose Columbia College because of the wide variety of online degrees available and because he felt supported by the college's staff.

"The biggest challenge is time management. I'm on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so it is basically just a balancing act between school and work," Lawzano said. "(The advising staff) always works with us to make sure all the necessary paperwork gets done. My adviser was always quick to get answers for me."

This is the second year the magazine has done such a ranking and the first time Columbia College has been recognized. Columbia College was also recognized in 2002 with the Ray Ehrensberger Award for being an outstanding military school provider.

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