Local Veteran Returns to School More Than 40 Years Later

Larry Johnson knows how difficult it is to obtain a college degree after serving in the U.S. Marine Corps. Johnson, a local Vietnam War veteran here in Orting, has returned to school more than forty years later and is on track to earn his bachelor’s degree in May of next year. Johnson was injured by a mortar in Vietnam while he served, and returned home struggling to keep his health in shape. “I tried to go to college, but just couldn’t do the same work,” Johnson said.

Instead, Johnson tried to juggle both a retail job and college for years, until he began working for a large grocery chain and his college education fell to the wayside. “With the money it was costing, as well as building a new family, it just wasn’t feasible.” According the American Council of Education, 85 percent of veterans pursuing an undergraduate degree between 2007 and 2009 were 24 years or older. Johnson’s career continued to support his family until 2006, but when he lost his job in 2006, he found he was unable to find work without his bachelor’s degree. With a 100 percent disability from Vietnam, he was eligible for educational assistance through the GI Bill and support from the VA’s rehabilitation program.

After receiving an associate’s degree from his local community college, Johnson eventually settled into Brandman University. Brandman University set Johnson up with the support he needed to pursue his college career through one-on-one coaching and resources for veterans. The US Census Bureau reports that while veterans normally have some college; non-veterans outpace veterans in college graduation rates by 2.3 percent.

It is this knowledge that Brandman University used in order to create the year old program, Veterans2College. “The goal of V2C is to provide veterans specialized courses to ease the transition to college and help them successfully complete their degree,” said Saskia Knight, the Vice Chancellor of Enrollment and Student Affairs at Brandman University.

Johnson had difficulties returning to college after so many years graduating. “I was used to outlining chapters by hand,” Johnson described. “I had to get used to the new technology everyone else was using.” In the years before Brandman University, Johnson often felt discouraged by how much time had passed since he came back from Vietnam. However, Johnson’s persistence has paid off—in another year, he will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in Organizational Development.

Johnson grants part of his success to that of his wife, two children and seven grandchildren, and the other to the values that were instilled in him with the Marines: honor, courage and commitment. “Brandman gave me the voice I needed to be able to continue school, and finish it this time,” said Johnson.
“Before I got into the right track, I had a job,” explained Johnson. “After I graduate, I plan on having a career.”

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