The available data on college graduation rates for returning veterans using GI Bill benefits shows that about 52 percent of student veterans go on to graduate. However there is a wide disparity in graduation rates among institutions. Evidence is beginning to mount that the level of transition support for student veterans can make a big difference in whether they remain and go on to graduate.
Many of the colleges and universities that eagerly recruit military veterans and the $10.2 billion a year in GI Bill benefits that come with them offer little support to help returning veterans make the transition to college, and their student-veterans rarely get degrees, according to data from the Departments of Defense, Education, and Veterans Affairs.
Challenges for Returning Veterans in College
Returning veterans who are attending college face many challenges and stresses in college that most students do not, including:
- Transitioning from a structured military life to an unstructured civilian life
- Juggling not only school, but also family and jobs
- Learning and attention challenges due in part to post traumatic stress (PTSD)
- Losing the camaraderie of their military colleagues can leave them feeling socially isolated
- Keeping up with the complexity of VA program requirements can be frustrating and time consuming
The vast life-experience divide between war veterans and teens fresh out of high school – all now sharing the same classrooms – can make the scholastic transition awkward and arduous for ex-soldiers. Factors such as these make the dropout rate for student veterans is highest in the first year when the transition is the most difficult.
Countering these challenges is their discipline, maturity, and drive to balance college with financial, family, and work commitments that student veterans bring with them to college.
Where Coaching Could Help
Some schools have begun offering services tailored to student veterans. For example, Sierra Community College outside of Sacramento, California, offers counseling on navigating the GI Bill requirements, a special veteran lounge and training for staff on understanding and working with the issues that student veterans have. Other schools
Such programs are helpful, but often fall short for student veterans who have executive functioning challenges brought on by:
- Traumatic brain injury
- Post-traumatic stress related to combat and often accompanied by depression and substance abuse
- Difficulty concentrating
At most colleges, the staff have not been trained to deal with these types of adjustment problems and disorders. For these types of issues, research indicates that one-on-one coaching by people trained to work with executive functioning issues may be the difference between a student veteran graduating or not graduating.