Veterans at U struggle to have “traditional” student life

Life as a veteran on campus comes with challenges that are similar to other non-traditional college students.

Former U.S. Marine and Parks and Recreation student Parker Ball poses for a photo outside the Armory on Sunday, Nov. 13, 2016. Ball said the media's portrayal of the military is very different than the real thing.

Carter Jones

Former U.S. Marine and Parks and Recreation student Parker Ball poses for a photo outside the Armory on Sunday, Nov. 13, 2016. Ball said the media’s portrayal of the military is very different than the real thing.

David Clarey

The life of a non-traditional student comes with challenges, but for student veterans it can be especially hard to adapt.

Student veterans are often older, have families and have to deal with standing out in a classroom filled with younger students from much different backgrounds.

Derek Fronabarger, director of policy at Student Veterans of America — an organization that advocates for student veterans — said there are 1.1 million student veterans in the country. Of those, almost 50 percent are married, 46 percent have kids and 14 percent are single parents, Fronabarger said.

The most common issue he hears about from student veterans is the difficulty switching environments — from a military team to an academic setting.

“It’s difficult to go from something so extreme to the other extreme,” he said.

Tim Hodges a third-year University law student previously served in the U.S. Marine Corps. He is 34-years-old and has a wife and two young kids.

He said he doesn’t necesarilly feel like he fits in with the scores of 20-somethings. He prefers to stick with other veterans, who make up about 1.4 percent of the student body, according to Boynton Health’s 2015 College Student Health Survey.

Hodges said it is stressful to balance a job, his family life and law school.

“Being a father, a husband — it’s a big time balance there … you’re kind of wearing four different hats,” he said.

Even getting used to life outside the military was difficult for Hodges. He recalled yelling at a random student for walking on the grass — something that’s unacceptable in the Marines.

Hodges lives with his family, and another student veteran he was stationed with in South Carolina.

His roommate, parks and recreation senior Parker Ball, attempted to go to a community college in Mississippi before joining the Marines. His then-girlfriend had been pregnant their senior year of high school, but they lost the baby and his life was spiraling, he said. After two years he dropped out of school. The military was a way of finding some stability in his life, he said.

Ball was stationed in Bangkok for two years and moved to Minnesota in 2015 for school after his term of service was up.

He was 25 when he started at University and figured he would be the oldest student in most of his classes. He had some trepidation about adjusting to college life.

“I hadn’t really had to do the studying and stuff,” he said. ”I was a little bit nervous about that.”

Ball said it was surprisingly easy to make friends and participate in classes.

But the age gap was still an issue, he said.

He invited his classmates out to a bar to hang out and “they would be like, ‘Well I’m 19,’” he said.

Hodges said he and Ball talk about what it’s like being a veteran and a college student, and find it funny how different the average student’s problems are from what theirs were at that age.

“You’re around a bunch of people that don’t understand what a long day is,” Hodges said. “This is like a vacation for me and Parker.”