Since 2014, Shawn Hawkins has attended occasional business classes at Central Oregon Community College’s noncredit business program, the Small Business Development Center. He believes these courses helped him get his company, Tiger Town Brewing Co. in Mitchell, off the ground in 2017.
But when Hawkins signed up for a Quickbooks Online class at the Small Business Development Center, he noticed something odd: It was free.
Hawkins was suddenly able to use his GI Bill benefits — which he earned from his U.S. Marine Corps service from 1990 to 1996 — for the first time at the business center.
“It felt great,” he said. “Who doesn’t love saving money?”
On Wednesday, COCC announced that it was accepting GI Bill benefits for its noncredit courses at the Small Business Development Center.
Although veterans could use these benefits — which either lower or completely eliminate tuition costs for college classes — for credit or degree-seeking courses, they previously couldn’t use them at the noncredit-only business center, said Ken Betschart, the center’s director.
But after becoming accredited by the Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs to do so in March, the Small Business Development Center is now the only noncredit business center in Oregon to accept GI Bill benefits, Betschart said. This could give local veterans a big boost in starting their own businesses, he said.
“Our courses don’t tend to be expensive to begin with, but it can be a barrier for some folks,” Betschart said. “This allows them to use their veteran benefits to cover the cost of tuition.”
Although other similar small-business centers in Oregon could also accept GI Bill benefits, COCC is the first one to do so. This could be because the accreditation process itself is obscure, Betschart said.
“When I heard this was available to us, I’ve talked to other (business centers ) across the state, and they weren’t aware it even existed,” he said. “There’s not a lot of knowledge about using GI benefits for noncredit courses.”
The GI Bill benefits for these business classes will depend on the individual veteran, said Sue Pierce, the veterans certifying official for COCC.
Veterans who served in active duty for at least 36 months would be eligible for a 100% tuition deduction, she said.
Those who served for less than that, but were still honorably discharged, can likely still receive a discount of some type, Pierce said.
Pierce said GI Bill benefits for COCC noncredit business courses will be useful to local veterans.
“This is a new avenue for veterans to use their benefits in a less traditional institute of higher learning, and pursue a course that may be more in line with their interests,” she said.