New Report: Enrolling More Veterans at High-Graduation-Rate Colleges and Universities

New Report: Enrolling More Veterans at High-Graduation-Rate Colleges and Universities

January 10, 2019 | ITHAKA | NEWS

In November, Ithaka S+R and the College Board hosted “Improving Opportunities for Veterans.” This conference brought together leaders from higher education, the military, and veterans service organizations who share the goal of increasing the enrollment and graduation of veterans at colleges and universities with the highest graduation rates.

In our new report with Catharine Bond Hill and Martin Kurzweil, we investigate the underrepresentation of United States military veterans at colleges that graduate at least 70 percent of their students. The benefits of earning a bachelor’s degree are clear, but veterans rarely attend those colleges and universities where they have the greatest chance to succeed: only one in ten veterans using GI Bill benefits enrolls in a high-graduation-rate institution, while approximately one in three veterans using GI Bill benefits attends a for-profit institution.

These inequities are not the result of veterans not being talented enough to succeed at top colleges and universities; in fact, there are many indicators that student veterans can attend and be successful. Student veterans are 1.4 times more likely to earn a certificate or degree than adult learners overall, and student veterans have an average GPA of 3.34, compared to the average for traditional students of 2.94. While many community colleges and regional four-year publics have large enrollments of veterans and serve their needs well, high-graduation-rate institutions, those that also tend to have more resources, could do more.

The report explores a variety of explanations for this underrepresentation of veterans at high-graduation-rate institutions. For instance, few veterans apply to these institutions, perhaps due to a preconceived notion that the sticker price, high academic selectivity, or elite campus culture isn’t a good match for them. Transfer and financial aid policies may be misaligned with a veteran’s circumstances, further complicating the application and enrollment process. On the institutional side, colleges and universities may have serious misconceptions about educating student veterans: that they’ll drain student health resources, struggle academically, or fail to assimilate to the classroom environment. In our report, we counter these common myths and share our perspective on why veterans are an asset to the campus community and how institutions can adapt to better serve the veteran population.

Despite the challenges, there are high-graduation-rate institutions that have successfully served student veterans for some time, and multiple national programs, such as the Posse Foundation, Service to School, and the Warrior-Scholar Project, that are committed to supporting veterans and helping institutions do more. Recently, more than 30 high-graduation-rate institutions publicly announced a commitment, through the American Talent Initiative, to enroll and graduate more military veterans. It is also clear that we can’t solve this problem without changes earlier in the pipeline; efforts like the College Board’s expansion of college search to include the CLEP exams, which thousands of service members take, are needed to better inform prospective student veterans about their options. With greater collaboration, focused research and practice-sharing, and better data, we can expand on these efforts and make a sustained impact on veterans’ access and success in higher education.

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