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Helping veterans graduate

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

justin Hutchinson Source University of MarylandWe’ve noted before the paucity of data available tracking how veterans perform once they enter college. Now, at the New York Times, James Dao writes about why that data is important in helping veterans face their unique challenges as students of higher education.

Dao describes the situation:

This year, more than one million service members, veterans and their families will take college courses financed with federal tax dollars. Their experiences will be more complicated than those of their fresh-faced civilian peers.

As often as not, they float in and out of college like nomads, juggling deployments, families and jobs. If they are in service, they take classes at night or on weekends, studying between combat patrols and 12-hour duty schedules. If they are veterans, they are probably in their late 20s or early 30s and relearning the rules of civilian life after years of martial discipline. Some have physical injuries or mental health issues that can strain their ability to study. And with 15 years to use their post-9/11 G.I. Bill benefits, many will take their time graduating.

Many will be like [Chief Warrant Officer Justin] Hutchinson, who has been taking classes for 12 years in multiple countries and is just now nearing completion of a bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity through the University of Maryland University College, an arm of the University System of Maryland that has been educating troops on bases (and now online) under contract with the Pentagon since 1949.

As a response to the flood of veterans entering higher education, many colleges are beginning to pay particular attention to their student veterans, hiring specialized counselors, creating specific centers for veterans, and offering vets-only classes. Dao continues:

[M]any initiatives have one principle at heart: that veterans have a common bond of language and experience, and sharing it can ease the transition and so improve chances of staying the course. Just as campuses provide a way station for adolescents moving into adulthood, they play a crucial role in reintegrating service members into civilian life. […]

“It’s definitely nice to be around a bunch of guys who’ve been in the same situation, chewed the same dirt, been around the block,” said 24-year-old Andrew Lovick, who served for four years in the Marines. “We’re the same demographic. It’s kind of hard relating to someone who’s 18 and their parents are paying for everything. You’ve been to Afghanistan and stuff and someone’s like, ‘Oh, my God, my dad won’t pay the phone bill!’”

Read Dao’s full report at the New York Times.