(KMSP) - As Veterans Day nears, one of the greatest gifts Minnesota can give to the men and women who have served our nation is the gift of higher education.
The Minnesota State system of colleges and universities is leading the way in helping service members transfer their time in the military directly into college credit.
“There's going to be a million excuses to stop going to school and you have to push all that aside and just get it done,” said Air Force Veteran Dave Zelm.
Senior Airman Zelm is a recent graduate of Inver Hills Community College, a goal he reached by transferring his military time into college credit. He also founded his own drone business.
“I had quite a few credits that were transferred, from personnel management to leadership courses and physical education,” Zelm said.
When he walked on campus, Zelm was already at least a semester ahead.
“It's nice to not have to repeat some facets of your education over and over again. It was kind of nice to just jump in and hit the core classes right away,” Zelm said.
While across the country some veterans are just starting to learn about this option, Minnesota State is a national leader, blazing the trail for almost a decade.
Since 2009, the system has awarded almost 200,000 credits to service members, saving them $38 million and 8 million hours of time.
“We're leading the nation and we're providing resources to other states and systems so they can get to the point where we are today,” said Gina Sobania, Director of Military, Veteran and Adult Learner Services for Minnesota State.
This fall, Leilani Dumancas started her business administration degree at Dakota County Technical College.
After several years of service with the Air National Guard, Dumancas started college with more than a year in transferred credit.
“I was really shocked. One of my instructors actually is my advisor, and he was the one who told me about all of it and said that I could potentially graduate in the spring,” Dumancas said.
The support for veterans expands beyond their transcripts. Every college and university within the Minnesota State system has a space or lounge dedicated to service members.
“We kind of keep each other on track, we can tell when something's going on or some life event happens, we jump into action,” Zelm said.
“Knowing that someone has gone through the same thing that they have gone through, or just to be able to talk about being in the military and so forth like that, is huge,” said Sue Flannigan, Veterans Coordinator for Inver Hills Community College.
More than 75 schools from 25 other states have turned to Minnesota State to learn from its veterans programs.
Four Minnesota State schools were recently listed as "Best for Vets" by Military Times Magazine. Those include St. Cloud State University, Inver Hills Community College, Dakota County Technical College, and St. Cloud Community and Technical College.