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Tracking military and veteran student success — 'They will be tomorrow's leaders'

Jared Lyon | Military Times

Editor's note: At least three new government websites now report on student outcomes by institution, including sites specific to the Post-9/11 GI Bill and military tuition assistance. Higher ed officials who serve military students fear that the information being reported could reflect poorly on the GI Bill in particular, making it likelier to be reduced, or eliminated, down the road.   Military Times asked three veterans — who are also top leaders in higher education associations — to write commentaries on the issue. Look for the final contribution in coming days.  

By 1952, the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act had sent 7.8 million veterans to college. The nation invested billions of dollars in that Greatest Generation who went on to do everything from starting the most successful American brands to putting a man on the moon. Historians and policymakers have calculated a nearly $7 return on every dollar invested in post-World War II student veterans. 

I wish I could tell you that the return on our investment in the Post-9/11 GI Bill is even higher, but I can’t. Simply, the research isn’t there. Yet. 

Several years ago, Student Veterans of America embarked on the Million Records Project in partnership with the Department of Veterans Affairs and the National Student Clearinghouse to get the data and produce research on how today’s student veterans have fared. What we learned is that student veterans are excelling. But we wanted to know more. 

Our forthcoming research project, the National Veteran Education Success Tracker (NVEST), has compiled and analyzed the successes of nearly 1 million student veterans and shows how much they are achieving in higher education. 

Nearly two-thirds of student veterans are first-generation college students. That means they don’t have a network to ask where they should go to college, what the college experience is like, or how that college education might benefit them long into the future. But by tracking those student veterans and their outcomes, we are helping build a network of chapters and veterans who are changing the way higher education supports veterans and other nontraditional students.  

Student veterans that have support are far more likely to graduate. Because we are able to track student veteran outcomes, we know they are doing better than traditional students. Because we are able to track outcomes, we know that 100,000 student veterans are graduating each year. That’s an ever growing network of successful veterans who are going on to run businesses, invent new technologies, teach young minds, and lead their communities. 

By tracking student veterans’ outcomes, we can break the stereotypes that pervade about how veterans are doing in higher education. Most will not need remedial courses, most will not need special tutoring or individual attention, and most will be more than successful with the same resources available to every student. Student veterans need our support not because they are lagging behind but because they are doing so well — we should be supporting their continued success because they will be tomorrow’s leaders.  

In January, Student Veterans of America will convene the largest ever gathering of student veterans at our annual national conference in Anaheim, California. We will hear from distinguished speakers, we will forge bonds between peers, and we will unveil NVEST, our research, that demonstrates the success of student veterans in higher education.