Vanguard University ranked among top 10 colleges for veterans

Marine Corps veteran Manuel Melgoza and reservist Brandon Lustig at the Veterans Services Center.
Marine Corps veteran Manuel Melgoza (right) and reservist Brandon Lustig (left) wait behind the desk at Vanguard University’s Veterans Services Center Thursday.
(Eric Licas)

After finishing his tour of duty as an aircraft technician for the Marines, Manuel Melgoza, 38, landed a decent job with a medical equipment company in Orange County. It paid all right, but after a few years it became clear that he wouldn’t be able to advance his position any further without a bachelor’s degree. So, he decided to take advantage of his G.I. Bill benefits.

“It was a little bit scary going back to school after being out of the military for so long,” Melgoza said.

A centralized administration handles many of the requests people in the military might make. When they leave and go to school, many of them become frustrated going from department to department trying to figure out how to file for aid and other services, Vanguard University director of veterans services Christopher Carroll said.


“There are a lot of times where vets won’t ask for services,” he said. “You kind of have to feel it out for them, and the only way you can do that is building relationships for them to open up. I’ve had occasions where someone is struggling academically, and I’ll make sure I get them connected with our tutoring and academic resources ... some guys are dealing with disability issues.”

Like many people who enroll later in life, Melgoza was worried about fitting in and needed help navigating the process of claiming benefits. His first step was to visit the veterans resource centers at several local campuses.

Most of the time, he would be greeted by someone at a desk who was polite, but “didn’t really seem that interested in me,” Melgoza said. They would typically refer him to information available online, and that would be the end of their interaction.

“I just didn’t feel welcomed at other schools,” he said.

He felt a “night and day” difference when he first came to Vanguard University in Costa Mesa. Carroll was waiting for Melgoza and gave him a tour of the campus. Many of the people they ran into were curious to learn more about his experiences in the Marine Corps.

The face-to-face support Melgoza received is a large part of why he chose to enroll at Vanguard last semester. Now he works at the school’s veterans resources center helping people who were in the same situation he’d experienced a few months earlier.

Vanguard was just ranked the eighth best four-year campus for veterans in the Military Friendly Schools Survey, university officials announced Tuesday. More than 8,800 colleges were considered in the annual, data-driven review.

Veterans Manuel Melgoza and Brandon Lustig outside the Veterans Resource Center.
Marine Corps veteran Manuel Melgoza, right, and reservist Brandon Lustig sit outside the Veterans Resource Center at Vanguard University Thursday, March 9.
(Eric Licas)

Brandon Lustig, 21, is a Marine Corps reservist and also works at the veterans center. He said it was initially difficult for him to make friends when he started taking classes at Vanguard in the spring of 2020 and was missing the camaraderie he had built with the other members of his training camp.

“After COVID happened and all that, and I came back to the school, the first thing I did was find the veterans resource center,” Lustig said. “And immediately, I had a place to hang out with people I could relate to.”

Lustig added that everyone, not just service members, veterans or their relatives, were welcome at the veterans resources center.

They sometimes have non-veterans come in to ask about the military, he said.

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