State and Community Roles in Supporting College Completion for Veterans
More than one million military veterans and their families are taking advantage of the Post 9/11 GI Bill to attend college. Passed in 2008, the updated federal veterans education law pays in-state tuition rates and fees to the institution attended by the veteran or dependent spouse or children and provides the student with a monthly stipend to pay for books, supplies and housing. The federal law has encouraged thousands of veterans to pursue higher education, and more are enrolled in postsecondary education than ever before.
But veterans still face challenges on campuses across the country. These challenges can range from a lack of camaraderie and understanding among other students and faculty, difficulty obtaining credit for military training and experiences, concerns about targeted recruiting by for-profit institutions, or state residency requirements. These obstacles can prevent veterans from returning to school or make it more difficult for them to finish their degree. Increasingly, however, policymakers and campuses are addressing these challenges to make the transition to campus life easier for returning veterans. For example, states are offering immediate access to in-state tuition rates and supporting programs to make veterans feel part of the campus community.
The Veteran Student Body
Between 2000 and 2012, more than 900,000 veterans and military service members received education benefits through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.[i] The largest influx of beneficiaries occurred between 2009 and 2010, when there was a 42 percent increase, due in part to the new Post 9/11 GI Bill taking effect. Although every state has veterans attending higher education institutions, 80 percent of the beneficiaries reside in just 23 states. Veteran undergraduates make up roughly 4 percent of the national student body, and although a relatively small percentage, the number is expected to increase as more service members return home from serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The majority of veterans on college campuses are “non-traditional” students. They are not entering straight from high school and are not dependent on their parents. Veterans are typically older than other students and have families. They will often attend multiple institutions while earning a degree, be enrolled part-time, or have mixed enrollment (i.e., fluctuate between full- and part-time enrollment). Roughly 85 percent of veterans and active duty service members enrolled in undergraduate programs are 24 years of age or older.[ii] Nearly half of veteran students have families, either a spouse (47 percent) and/or children (47 percent).[iii]Despite only making up 10 percent to 12 percent of military personnel, women make up 27 percent of veterans enrolled in post-secondary education.
Sixty-two percent of veterans and military service members are the first in their family to attend college, compared to 43 percent of non-military students according to a survey by the American Council on Education (ACE). The types of institutions student veterans choose to attend do not differ greatly from that of traditional students. Two-year colleges have the greatest percentage of both student populations. But a greater percentage of veteran students enroll in bachelor degree programs compared to non-military students. And veteran students are more likely to enroll in distance learning courses, which are especially appealing to active duty service members who may have to report to duty at any time in the middle of a course.
State Actions to Address Veteran Challenges
Although the Post 9/11 GI Bill has offered a strong incentive for returning veterans to attend college and gain degrees and credentials, veterans still face challenges. Life in the military can entail relocating often, moving from one state to another. These frequent moves make it harder for military service members and veterans to establish residency in one state and be eligible for in-state tuition rates at public institutions. Realizing the hardship on veterans, 29 states-- Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington and Wyoming—have laws allowing veterans to waive the residency requirement and receive in-state tuition immediately upon enrollment.
The Post 9/11 GI Bill pays for in-state tuition and does not cover the difference for out-of-state tuition, which can be more than $13,310 a year. Some veterans however, may be eligible for additional funds through the Yellow Ribbon program, which grants extra money to cover the difference between in- and out-of-state tuition, but not every veteran is eligible. The residency rule means the student must pay out-of-state tuition or wait to establish residency before they qualify for resident tuition rates. This could mean the difference between a veteran attending college or not, or cause her to take out additional loans to cover the difference.
Examples of legislation:
Oregon: HB 2158 (2013)—The bill directs the state’s public universities and community colleges to charge resident tuition rates and fees for veterans who are nonresidents. The student must provide proof of physical presence in the state within 12 months of enrolling in the institution.
Alabama: HB 424 (2013)—The bill allows veterans and their dependent spouse or child in-state tuition upon enrollment at a public university. It also provides residency status for veterans living within 90 miles of an Alabama institution who live out of state.
Idaho: S 1367 (2010) and H 384 (2012)—The bills waive the 12-month residency requirement for veterans and their dependents at state institutions, provided they receive at least 50 percent support from the qualified veteran who has domicile in the state. The second bill extends the earlier provision to allow a qualified dependent to retain resident status if after enrolled the parent or guardian is transferred out of state on military orders.
Texas: S 297 (2009)—The bill waives the 12-month residency requirement for veterans and veterans’ dependent spouse or children. It requires the veteran to submit a letter of intent to establish residence in the state of Texas.
Realizing that relocating is also tough on military children, 46 states have passed legislation to join the Interstate Compact on Education Opportunity for Military Children, which eases transitions between public schools in different states by allowing children to quickly enroll in a new school, be placed in appropriate classes, and receive credit for courses to ensure on-time graduation.
Academic Credit for Military Experience
Veterans receive intensive training and experience while in the military and increasingly policymakers are encouraging institutions to allow veterans to apply those hours of experience and training towards degrees and credentials. Prior Learning Assessments, or PLA, can grant college credit for competencies and knowledge veterans acquire while serving in the military, which can reduce the time and cost of obtaining a degree or credential. The Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) has found that a student with PLA credits is two and a half times more likely to graduate than a student who doesn’t have PLA credits.[i]
The American Council on Education (ACE) has helped institutions reward veterans for their previous training and experience by compiling easily accessed recommendations and a career guide for every sector of the military. Currently, 26 states—Alabama, Alaska, California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming—have passed legislation to recognize the skills and learning veterans acquired by counting it towards college credit.
Some states require the board of regents for every institution to adopt policies for applying military training or service towards academic credit, while other states require commissions or boards, such as the state’s higher education commission or board of education, to set guidelines for institutions to adopt.
Examples of legislation:
Alaska: HB 338 (2013)—Directs each board of a state public educational institution, community college or technical school to adopt a policy requiring institutions to award academic credits to veterans enrolled for courses as part of military training or service that meet the standards of the American Council on Education.
Missouri: SB 106 (2013)—Requires every public institution of postsecondary education in the state to award educational credits to a student who is also a veteran, for courses that are part of the student’s military training or service. The bill also provides for health-related professional licensing and provides for renewal of licensing without dues or fees.
Minnesota: HF 3664 (2006)—Requires state colleges and universities to recognize courses and award educational credit for courses that were part of a veteran’s military training or service if the courses meet the standards of the American Council on Education or equivalent standards for awarding academic credit.
Texas: SB 1736 (2011)—Establishes the College Credit for Heroes program to maximize academic and workforce education credits to veterans and military service members for military experience, education and training obtained during military service in order to expedite the entry of veterans and military service members into the workforce.
Campus Services for Veterans
Transitioning from military life to campus life can be difficult for many veterans. They can find it challenging to readjust while balancing other responsibilities, coping with military related injuries, or finding peers on campus.
States can help by providing services specifically for veterans on campuses, such as tailored orientation, resource centers and mentors and faculty who are sensitive to military culture. By taking steps to ease the transition for veteran students, both the student and the institution can benefit.
Examples of legislation:
Arizona: HB 2602 (2012)—In order to be classified as a campus supportive of veterans on the state’s higher education website, the institution must perform a campus survey of student veterans to identify their needs, issues and suggestions; create a campus steering committee on veteran students; offer sensitivity and awareness training on military and veterans’ culture; provide peer mentoring and support for veteran students; and have a one-stop resource and study center on campus for student veterans, their families, and student family members of the armed forces who are currently deployed.
Oregon: HB 2178 (2009)—Creates the Campus Veterans’ Service Officers Program, which directs the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to appoint a sufficient number of veterans’ service officers to ensure the provision of veterans’ services at every community college and every institution in the State University System.
New Jersey: AB 3360 (2009)—Establishes the Troops to College Program in the Commission of Higher Education to assist the state’s public higher education institutions in coordinating a comprehensive array of services to assist veterans in making the transition into the college classroom. This is to include assistance in applying for student financial aid, counseling resources, a campus veterans’ assistance officer to provide information on the institution’s benefits, and programs for veterans.
Veterans at For-Profit Colleges
For-profit colleges have seen an enrollment increase of more than 200 percent over the last two decades, making it the fastest growing sector in postsecondary education. Many students, including veterans, find for-profits appealing due to their flexible schedules, year-round enrollments, small class sizes and convenient locations. Another strong draw for-profit universities have is their ability to respond quickly to labor market needs by creating certificate or degree programs in growing fields such as computer science, business and health care. All of this can be especially attractive to the nontraditional student who may have home and work responsibilities and is seeking a credential that can better help them thrive in the labor market.
The rapid increase of enrollment numbers at for-profit institutions, however, has drawn attention and criticism from lawmakers in Washington, D.C., and in the states. Between 2010 and 2012, the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension (HELP) Committee, chaired by Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), conducted an in-depth review of for-profit colleges to better understand their growing enrollment numbers. One of the areas of the investigation was on how much federal student aid and Post 9/11 GI Bill funds were being directed to these schools and what the funds were being used for. Although the percentage of veteran students who enroll at for-profit institutions is the same or smaller than the percentage of non-military students who enroll at for-profits, eight of the top 10 recipients of Post-9/11 GI Bill funds are for-profit education companies.[ii] This discrepancy is due in part because for-profit institutions average higher tuition rates than in-state rates at public institutions. The HELP committee report also addressed concerns regarding some for-profit colleges’ targeted recruiting practices of veteran students and the high student loan default.
Despite the criticism, for-profit institutions serve an important role in the post-secondary sector. According to a study from the Journal of Economic Perspectives, compared to community colleges, for-profit colleges have greater success in retaining students from their first year to their second year and in attaining short-term degrees or certificates.[iii] Additionally, they educate a larger percentage of adult, minority and underserved students.
Overall, the committee’s high-profile hearings on for-profit colleges have illuminated the need for better student awareness, accountability and state oversight. Over the last couple years, state policymakers have sought ways to maintain accountability for for-profit colleges in their states. California, Maryland, Connecticut and Michigan have all enacted legislation to help support student success while protecting student and taxpayer investments.
Examples of legislation:
California: SB 70 (2011)—Determines the eligibility for the state’s Cal Grant financial aid program based on student loan default rates at each school. The bill also requires every postsecondary institution in the state to report annually on enrollment, persistence and graduation for all students.
Kentucky: HB 308 (2012)—Discontinues the previous Board on Proprietary Education and creates a new agency, the Kentucky Commission on Proprietary Education, which is not majority controlled by for-profit industry officials. The commission has authority over the student complaint process.
Maryland: SB 695 (2011)—Prohibits deceptive recruiting practices, including banning incentives or bonuses for recruiters. It also created a student protection fund, financed by for-profit colleges.
Despite the challenges veterans have in transitioning from military life to campus life, some studies have found they are doing well once enrolled, perhaps even better than the traditional student. According to a study by the Pat Tillman Foundation-- Got Your 6-- and Operation College Promise, veteran students average 24.5 credits per year, which indicates they are on the trajectory to graduate in five years, or four years with transfer credits from prior learning or military experience. The study says that the average veteran student enters a postsecondary institution with 28 transfer credits, making them sophomores immediately upon entering.[iv] The same study says that the persistence rate, the rate at which students return between their first and second year of college, is much higher than previously thought among veteran students. The study goes on to say that the high persistence rate could be due to the increased focus of state governments, higher education institutes and community partners who are working at easing the transition for veterans.
In addition to the focus policymakers and organizations have on easing the transition from military to school, some are also looking at easing the transition into careers. More professions are realizing how valuable veterans can be given their experience with communication, medicine or information technology, their teamwork and leadership, and their ability to multi-task and work under pressure, all of which are desired traits for any profession. One such profession that has seen a rise in specific programs tailored to veterans is teaching. National organizations such as Teach for America and Troops to Teachers help returning veterans interested in teaching receive teaching certification and gain employment in the classroom. States have also looked into similar programs.
Examples of Legislation:
New Jersey: SB 1026 (2012)-- Establishes the VETeach Pilot Program in the Department of Education to facilitate teacher certification of veterans and provides that the expense incurred by eligible students will be covered under the Post 9/11 GIL Bill.
Washington: HB 1156 (2009)-- The Alternative Route Certification Program creates a preference for veterans and national guard members in the higher education alternative route teacher certification program who want to become teachers.
Kentucky: HB607 (2008)-- Relates to alternative teacher certification and allows a five-year statement of eligibility for teaching to be issued to a veteran who has completed a total of 10 years of active duty service, 10 years of service officially credited toward armed services retirement, or 10 years combination of service.
A Community’s Role in Promoting Veteran Success
The number of states offering in-state tuition rates and college credits for military experience has been steadily increasing over the last few years, encouraging more veterans to seek out credentials and degrees. But this is only part of the story. Transitioning from the military to campus and then to a career can be daunting and difficult for many veteran students. While many campuses and states are considering providing more services to veterans on campus and while enrolled in college, there remains a great opportunity for collaboration between education, business, and community partners to play a larger and more strategic role in helping veterans succeed.
Place-based strategies are exactly these kinds of partnerships: where community partners, colleges, businesses, non-profits and others work collectively in order to build a strong system of support and make a meaningful impact for veterans returning to school and work. A place-based strategy for veteran students could involve greater outreach and information to veterans on different types of college programs, clear financial and GI Bill information, access to pathways to careers through job trainings or apprenticeships, as well as the above mentioned policies. The goal of these strategies is to bring multiple community resources together to ensure America’s veterans are earning valuable credentials and degrees to succeed in civilian life.
- [i] Amy Sherman, Kecky Klein-Collins and Iris Palmer, "State Policy Approaches to Support Prior Learning Assessment," Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (Chicago, IL, 2012).
- [ii] United State Senate, Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. "For Profit Higher Education: The Failure to Safeguard the Federal Investment and Ensure Student Success," (Washington, D.C., 2012).
- [iii] David J. Deming, Claudia Goldin, Lawrence F. Katz, "The For-Profit Postsecondary School Sector: Nimble Critters or Agile Predators?" Journal of Econmic Perspectives—Volume 26, Number 1—Winter 2012—Pages 139-164.
- [iv] Wendy A. Lang, Brian D. Harriett and Marvin Cadet, "Completing the Mission II: A Study of Veteran Students’ Progress Toward Degree Attainment in the Post 9/11 Era" (Trenton, NJ: NJ Association of State Colleges and Universities, 2013).
- [i] United State Department of Veterans Affairs, National Center for Veterans Analysis and Statistics, Education Program Beneficiaries (Washington, DC, 2014).
- [ii] Wendy A. Lang, Brian D. Harriett and Marvin Cadet, "Completing the Mission II: A Study of Veteran Students’ Progress Toward Degree Attainment in the Post 9/11 Era" (Trenton, NJ: NJ Association of State Colleges and Universities, 2013).