Number of vets enrolled in college spikes dramatically

On weekly basis Israel Rivas gathers with a small, but growing group of veterans.

They served in different campaigns and under different branches, but aside from their military background, they have one more thing in common: they are now college students.

"When I first started here it was a little bit harder than it is now, Rivas said. But with this organization it TMs made it a whole lot easier."

Rivas presides over the Student Veterans Organization at the University of Texas Pan American in Edinburg.

He is a U.S. Army veteran and is hoping his work in the group will help other students like him. "Our purpose is to unite all military veterans and to guide them as mentors to come into their higher education and help them out with the transition," he added.

Each year more veterans are making that transition as the wars overseas are winding down.

The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates the number of service members enrolling in college grows 20-25 percent each year.

But Noel Ysasti said at UTPA the numbers are much higher.

"We TMre looking at a 30-60 percent increase in the next year," he said.

Ysasti is the director of the Veterans Student Center at the university.

He said in the past years they usually saw about 35 to 40 new veterans enrolling in classes, but recently the number has spiked to almost three times as much, to as many as 120 new veterans per year.

"We want to make them feel like, okay, you were serviced to, you are taken care of and now you have nothing to worry about from this point on," he explained.

UTPA established the center three years ago.

Ysasti, a navy veteran, said their goal is to create a one stop shop of resources for student veterans.

They include psychological counseling, work study, and, soon, a multi-purpose lab for them to study or relax.

"What we do here is really for the best interest of our vets," Ysasti concluded.

Meanwhile, Rivas invites any student veteran at UTPA to look to at their organization.

"Come along, he said. They don TMt have to commit to anything just come in and hear us out."

As more service members make the move back to school, the veteran center and the student organization are committed to helping them through that next step.