Anthony Keach grew up in Elmira following Syracuse University  basketball, and always knew he would go to school there.
After four years in the U.S. Army, Keach finally enrolled this fall at SU -- one of a growing number of veterans who have resumed their educations using new federal programs.
Syracuse has seen the number of veterans climb from 54 in 2006 to 186 this year – more than triple in just five years. SU officials say the increase is a combination of more generous federal benefits for post-9/11 veterans and the university’s own efforts to recruit and retain student veterans.
SU has welcomed veterans with open arms, through standard academic undergraduate and graduate programs, and with several short-term training programs aimed at helping veterans and their families launch their own businesses.
“If Syracuse isn’t the best place for veterans, I don’t know what is,” said Keach, a political science major.
SU has launched a number of initiatives aimed at bringing veterans to campus, including:
- The Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities  to help disabled veterans start their own businesses. Its motto: "From boots to business suits."
- The Institute for Veterans and Military Families  to research issues facing veterans with families. Veterans are six times more likely to be married and four times more likely to have children than non-veteran college students.
- A free certificate program with JPMorgan Chase  bank to help veterans get jobs in technology and service companies.
- A lounge in the University College  building exclusively for veterans to study and socialize.
SU has focused not just on getting veterans here, but making them feel comfortable enough to stick around and get their degrees, said Jim Schmeling, managing director for the institute.
"We know that more than half of all veterans don’t finish their degrees," Schmeling said. "One of the reasons for that, we’re hearing, is they don’t feel like they belong where they are."
The big boost in veterans at SU – and other colleges across the country – comes from the post-9/11 G.I Bill, passed by Congress 2009. Veterans who served since 2001 can qualify for full tuition at public schools. The companion Yellow Ribbon program helps pay the gap at private institutions such as Syracuse.
About 800,000 veterans nationwide used GI Bill benefits in 2010, a 40 percent increase from the year before, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs . A Senate committee report said the VA paid $4.4 billion to nearly 6,000 colleges last year.
Syracuse-area student veterans
Nearly 800 military veterans are attending Central New York schools in fall 2011 under federal programs.