<< The Body Politic

Understanding student veterans

Thursday, December 6th, 2012

With soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan to a down economy, many veterans are choosing to enroll in colleges and other higher education programs. Indeed, the recent increase of student veterans in higher education has been the fastest since the GIs of World War II flooded college campuses in the late ’40s and early ’50s. Now, as they did then, colleges are scrambling to understand student veterans and help them succeed.

While many colleges realize the need to provide special services to their student veterans, relatively few actually collect retention and completion rates for undergraduate veterans.  Writing in Inside Higher Ed, Paul Fain explains:

About 68 percent of institutions said they do not separately collect retention and completion rates for undergraduate veterans, according to findings from the survey, which was conducted by NASPA: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education and InsideTrack, a company that works with colleges on student coaching services. Only 10 percent of respondents said they know the first-year retention rates of student veterans.

However, the survey found that most colleges have in place specialized student services for veterans, and are generally aware of the need for more information about how the population is faring. […]

The study is timely, given the large numbers of veterans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan and are enrolling on campuses or online after returning to a down economy. Nearly 2 million veterans are eligible for federal aid aimed at them or their family members.

Many veterans face extra challenges after enrolling, such as adjusting to a less structured environment or mental and physical health issues. Yet only one in four colleges reported having a detailed understanding of why veteran and military students drop out, according to the survey. […]

Dave Jarrat, a spokesman for InsideTrack, said the goal of the new research is to help colleges identify how to best track retention of student veterans, and to promote approaches to student affairs that improve their success rates.

“Now’s the time for setting measurement standards,” Jarrat said. “Let’s note where we are so we can see where we’re going.”

For many institutions, that means starting at square one. Colleges generally follow cohorts of minority, lower-income and first-generation college students as they progress, said Jarrat. But students with military backgrounds don’t get the same specialized attention from institutional researchers.

That should change, he said. Veterans face many of the same obstacles that other adult students wrestle with, chiefly balancing work and family demands while returning to the classroom for the first time in years. But they have several distinctive adjustments to make to the academic environment, according to experts.

For example, the survey found that more than 60 percent of colleges reported that “social acculturation” or “university community issues” have a bigger impact on the retention of student veterans than on the broader student population.

Read the whole thing here.