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UT Arlington earns top marks as key education resource for veterans

()  In the 28 years of service in the U.S. military, Domingo Padron took on many different jobs in different cities within the National Guards as a full-time active-reserve.


But, attending college and perhaps joining the civilian workforce was not on the radar for the veteran, post-retirement.


Yet, now Padron is ready to hit the job market after earning a bachelor's degree from the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA).


"This place [UTA] is full of resources," Padron said. "They helped with any questions that I have about my course or my benefits or helping my family, daughters get their benefits."


For all the resources and other commitments provided to its veteran students like Padron, Military Times has named UTA the nation's top-ranking four-year institution for veterans to earn a college degree (UTA is located in Downtown Arlington).


Additionally, the Military Times' "Best for Vets: Colleges 2020" list attributes the recognition to UTA for its 85% veteran graduation rate and its large student population of service members and veterans.


The university has the largest population of service members and veterans out of the top 10 institutes, according to the Military Times list. Padron is one of more than 3,100 military personnel or veterans enrolled at UTA.


"I had a lot of mentors who helped me believe that I could do this," Padron said. "It's hard. Nobody said it'll be easy. But, I'm almost at the end."


He is graduating this fall with a degree in history and three additional minors. Padron also earned a teaching certificate and, he said, he wants to become a teacher after finishing college.


Former military service members with their newly-acquired skills and college degrees are a needful addition to the under-supplied local and regional workforce.


The South's regional economy – which includes Texas – had a total of 2.6 million unfilled jobs at the end of September, according to a report released on Nov. 5 by Bureau of Labor Statistics.


Veterans joining the workforce are a boon to the economy as they continue their service to the nation, said James Kumm, executive director of veteran programs at UTA.


"We help them grow as individuals. Then we get them ready to graduate and move on to amazing careers," Kumm said about UTA's veteran students.


"To do that, we've been partnering with a number of companies and corporations throughout DFW and really all over the nation to show them what kind of students we have. And then ask their opinions on what we can be doing to help better prepare them to be the best possible candidates for the workforce," he added.


UTA has a 69% retention rate for military students


Earlier this year, UTA opened the Office of Military and Veterans Services. The building consolidated all the military-focused resources and tools, which were previously scattered throughout the 420-acre campus, into one building.


The center now provides 17 coordinated services for veterans that involve areas such as transition, health, education benefits, engagement and career development.


Military-connected students can also utilize the center's meeting space for external services, organizations and workshops, tutoring and seminars. The center also has a student lounge with computers and other amenities.


"With veterans, a large number of us have seen the world," Kumm said. "We've been to different countries, to different cities. So, we bring that wealth of knowledge with us as well. Those experiences, they're not only able to translate in the classroom to the learning environment, but when it comes the time to get a job, they're bringing all those great skills that they learned in the military."


For former Marine Rafael Arreguin, the years of military experience did help him land a job, and so did his ties to UTA, he said.


Arreguin graduated in May with a bachelor's in finance and management. He is currently working at the Office of Military and Veterans Services, where he once used to visit for course advising and career counseling as a student.


"It's easier for students getting out of the military to come into UTA," Arreguin said. "It already has established clubs and programs. It's easier for them to transition. We have more advocacy about it. Other schools might have other clubs and programs, but may not be as established."


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