The nation’s colleges and universities face an influx of students who are active duty or military veterans. According to the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) spends nearly $9 billion annually on education benefits through the Post-9/11 GI Bill, supporting nearly 600,000 service members, veterans, and other beneficiaries. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) reports that 325,000 active duty service members enrolled in postsecondary courses in 2011, using more than $1 billion in funding through the DOD Voluntary Education Program.
Given the significance of these student populations, both in terms of enrollment and taxpayer spending, it is no surprise that there has been an acute focus on the experiences and educational outcomes of student veterans and active duty military students in academic scholarship, policy conversations, and media reporting.
Unfortunately, the data available to support these important discussions remains limited. For instance:
There are no accurate counts of the true number of active duty military and student veterans attending U.S. postsecondary institutions.
There is very limited information available regarding the success rates of these individuals.
Knowledge of the factors affecting the success of these students and of the institutional practices most likely to enhance their success is not widely held.
InsideTrack and NASPA, two organizations dedicated to advancing postsecondary enrollment, student learning, and degree completion, set out to better understand these issues through an institutional survey, coupled with interviews and the aggregation of insights gained from one-on-one mentoring and coaching of thousands of student soldiers and veterans over the last decade. This brief presents results of our project.
Designed to gauge efforts underway for tracking educational progress and outcomes for student soldiers and veterans, survey results summarize the approaches institutions are taking to data collection and student supports, and reflect opinions about what is working and what remains opaque in terms of effective practice. This brief concludes with recommendations based on the survey results and our other work on this issue, suggesting a way forward for leaders interested in supporting active duty and student veteran educational success.
Results of our work indicate that most institutions are making a concerted effort to better understand and serve student soldiers and veterans. However, we also found that most are doing so without the benefit of good data and strong measurement mechanisms. Nearly three-quarters of responding institutions have dedicated personnel and resources specifically to active duty military student and student veteran affairs. Most have a variety of initiatives underway designed to enhance success among these students. At the same time, only a small minority claim to understand the primary causes of attrition among student soldiers and veterans, and the vast majority do not have the disaggregated retention and completion data required to measure the effectiveness of their interventions and investments.