Higher Education

Despite family and work commitments, student veterans outpace classmates

Veterans using GI Bill benefits achieve success rates slightly higher than the average

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Veterans in College

Despite often having to juggle schoolwork with jobs and families, veterans attending college under the Post-9/11 GI Bill are finishing at rates slightly higher than their classmates, a new report shows.

The report says 53.6 percent of veterans using GI Bill benefits who arrived on campus in the fall of 2009 had graduated within six years, compared to 52.9 percent of students overall. Another 18 percent were still enrolled.

In all, the GI Bill — which costs $11 billion a year, according to the General Accounting Office — paid for all or part of 450,000 degrees earned by 340,000 students between 2009 and 2015, the study found. Some of those veterans earned more than one degree.

The research proves that “many veterans truly excel in the academic environment,” Department of Veterans Affairs spokesman Terry Jemison said.

While the VA furnished data for the survey — called the National Veteran Education Success Tracker, or NVEST — it was conducted by the independent National Student Clearinghouse in collaboration with the advocacy group Student Veterans of America and reviewed by researchers from the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University and the Military Family Research Institute at Purdue University.

That’s because the government itself so far provides only information about the proportion of veterans at community colleges and proprietary schools who graduate, and not the significant number who attend four-year universities.

Jemison said there is a plan to provide that data, along with school-by-school success rates, but no date by which that might be publicly available. Nor does NVEST break down graduation rates by institution.

Two Democrat senators, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Jon Tester of Montana, have called for the VA to speed this up by letting the National Student Clearinghouse formally track veteran graduation rates on the government’s behalf.

The VA did conduct a survey in 2010 that found that veterans who went to college using GI Bill benefits between the end of the Korean War and Sept. 11, 2001 graduated at a rate of between 66 percent and 68 percent.

Student veterans tend to be older than their classmates; more than half of those in the NVEST report were 22 of older when they first enrolled in college. Many also have family and work obligations, and some contend with service-related disabilities.

They also often have to fight with colleges and universities for their military training and experience to be transferred into academic credit.

This contributes to the additional problem that many student veterans use up their eligibility for GI Bill money before graduating and have the choice of paying from their own pockets to finish, or dropping out.

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Jon Marcus

Jon Marcus, higher-education editor, has written about higher education for the Washington Post, USA Today, Time, the Boston Globe, Washington Monthly, is North America higher-education… See Archive

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