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Colleges volunteer financial aid for returning soldiers

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When the University of Illinois announced last month it would offer 110 full MBA scholarships to military veterans, worth $74,000 each, the news flew across the state's National Guard e-mail network.

That same night, 1st Sgt. Michael Purvis e-mailed the program's director. Within days, he learned he'd be joining the school's executive MBA program in Chicago this fall.

For Sergeant Purvis, who had just returned to his job as a systems analyst for a communication firm after a year's deployment in Iraq with an Army National Guard unit, the news offered a ray of hope. Leaving the hyper-alert mode of combat duty and returning to a job where he felt he had to relearn everything has been difficult, he says. "But then to have an opportunity like this - with somebody offering to help out - it really brightens your future quite a bit."

The university - which is partnering with the Illinois Veteran Grant Program to give the scholarships - has one of the more generous programs out there. But in ways large and small, a number of institutions are offering a host of opportunities for the largest combat force returning to the US since Vietnam War days.

Proponents of such programs say there's a pressing need not just to thank members of the military for the service they've given their country, but also to offer education, training, or jobs to a group whose transition to civilian life can be challenging.

"You've got a flood of people who have served the country coming back - that doesn't happen all that often," says Robert van der Hooning, assistant dean of the University of Illinois's College of Business. "There are a lot of military people who have had their careers interrupted from Tour 1, Tour 2, Tour 3. A lot view this opportunity as a way to put the burners onto their career, to focus on earning back some of income they lost all those years serving their country or the promotions they lost."

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