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Student Veterans taking College Classes in Record Numbers

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This Veterans Day, college students across the country honored members of the U.S. military through a variety of ceremonies, services and other planned events. Some current college students are veterans themselves: thanks to the educational benefits provided by the Post-9/11 GI Bill and the Montgomery Bill, U.S. veterans are enrolling in college classes in record numbers as tuition becomes more affordable for them than ever before.

New National Survey of Student Engagement Includes Veterans

Released on November 4, this year’s National Survey of Student Engagement included students who served in the Armed Forces for the first time in the survey’s 11-year history. The NSSE results are based on the responses of approximately 362,000 total freshmen and seniors at 564 colleges and universities in the United States. More than 11,000 of the students surveyed were veterans, including 4,680 (44% of the veteran students) who had been in combat in their tours of duty. Three-quarters of the veterans polled were seniors and the others were freshmen.

According to GIBill.com, the NSSE found that:

  • Most veterans attending college using military education benefits are male.
  • Most veteran students are older than many of their peers.
  • Many veterans are enrolled part-time and are either transfer students or distance learners.
  • Veteran students are more likely to be disabled than other non-veteran students. One in five combat veterans attending college has some type of disability, compared to one in 10 non-veterans.
  • The majority of veteran students are enrolled in public universities. Many of these public schools are GI Bill-friendly schools and offer increased veteran support and additional financial aid to cover total tuition costs.

Veterans Feel Less Support on Campus

Inside Higher Ed reports that student veterans attending four-year colleges in the United State spend more time working at jobs and caring for dependents than their non-veteran classmates, but spend just as much time studying.

Still, there are no statistically significant differences between veterans and other students. Although the veterans appear to be less academically engaged than other students for these reasons— even other non-veteran college students with similar work and family obligations — the veteran students are just as likely to report overall satisfaction with their college experiences.

Freshman and senior veterans reported that they are “less engaged with faculty” and perceive “less campus support” than non-veterans, causing Alexander C. McCormick, NSSE director and associate professor of education at Indiana University, to speak up.

“Our findings suggest that colleges and universities need to make special efforts to identify and address the needs of their student veterans,” McCormick said in a press release announcing the results. “They make up a small share of the undergraduate population, but it is an important group that is likely to grow under the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008, called the new GI Bill.”

Starting College Can Be Difficult for Student Veterans

Even though veterans made up only 3.4 percent of the NSSE respondents, the number is expected to rise quickly because of the growing number of veterans taking advantage of the Post-9/11 Veterans Education Assistance Act. Since the new GI Bill took effect in August 2009, more than 300,000 recent veterans have enrolled at colleges and universities across the country.

Transitioning from war zones to college campuses is often difficult, and most college officials want to learn more about the best ways to effectively educate this potentially large and potentially complicated group of students for that reason. As more veterans enroll in college classes, colleges and universities have been hard-pressed to serve their needs, many of whom require additional support to successfully navigate academic life.

“I came back to school and I was like a deer in headlights,” 27-year-old veteran Matt Knorr told the Wisconsin newspaper Appleton Post Crescent. A banking and finance student at Fox Valley Technical College, Knorr served three tours of duty in Iraq from 2003 to 2005. He felt so isolated at the school that he helped form a student organization called Veterans for Veterans last summer.

All in all, the NSSE study findings show that colleges and universities must strive to find more effective ways of helping former service members while creating more supportive environments to promote their academic success.


Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.

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