Nationally, our student veterans are not being successful in attaining their academic goals. Early reports in 2010 put dropout rates at close to 88%. More recent “research” attempts to downplay the severity of the issue and claims that the majority of student veterans are indeed graduating. The majority is defined as a very narrow 51.7%. Not exactly a number worth celebrating. The reality is that student veterans are lagging behind their non-veteran counterparts on campus for several reasons, some related to transition issues and others related to the failure of DoD and the VA to adequately inform and protect those who serve.
So before you decide to leave the military and put that hard earned education benefit to use, you should educate yourself and learn the lessons from those who have gone before you.
- Make sure college is really what you want to do. Not everyone has to go to college in order to be successful. I know that is shocking information and runs contrary to main stream media but the reality is that half of last year’s college graduates are under-employed. Meaning that they are working in jobs that do not require their degree. The trades are actually hurting for people right now. Heck, my HVAC guy makes far more money than I do, and I have two masters degrees!
- Choose the right form of higher education to meet your academic preparedness and your academic potential. There is a wide variety of higher education to choose from and they are not all created equal. Some focus on access and taking education to the people and thus have less stringent enrollment standards while others are very selective in who they admit. And unfortunately, there are others that are simply out to make money. I encourage you to enroll into the best school you can get admitted to.
- Online education sounds easy, but has a poor track record in actually graduating student veterans. Always ask about retention and graduation rates regardless of the type of higher education you select. The very best retention and graduation rates are in Private Universities followed by 4yr State Universities. It doesn’t mean you can’t be successful at the others, but you should know your odds going in. Another number to consider are loan default rates. If their graduates are defaulting, that means that they are not obtaining employment significant enough to pay off their debt.
- Don’t count on your Military Credit. Unless you are in the Air Force, your military credit will not likely move you any closer to your degree. While most schools “accept” military credit, in reality they simply recognize it as credit and will put in on your transcript as General Education credit. This type of credit does not count towards your electives or your degree requirements. In addition, too much of this type of credit on your transcript can actually work against you when it comes to financial aid. Look for military credit policies that only take the credit that will be applied towards your degree. You don’t need the fluff. And if you are wondering, the Air Force has the largest accredited community college in the country. Well played Air Force….well played.
- Know what Veteran and Military Friendly really means. Many schools want your GI Bill money and will go to great lengths to earn the title “veteran friendly”. Sadly, they may not be as friendly as their ranking or title implies. These titles are determined in most cases by the responses to survey questions. These surveys are created by folks who have never transitioned from the military to higher education so they include questions that sound good but have little to nothing to do with being veteran friendly. An example might be; “What percentage of the student body are veterans?” The implication here is that the larger the number, the more veteran friendly the campus is. When in reality, they could be a very small school located outside the gates of a military installation. You can define veteran friendly however you like, I tend to define it as; “Student veteran success as measured by graduation rates.” After all, if they are not graduating, it doesn’t really matter how many veterans they have or how big their veterans’ center is.
- Finally, save some money. The transition out of the military may be a smooth one for many, but I assure you that life in the civilian world is not cheap. On top of that, the VA is not likely to pay you as promptly as you would like. Many student veterans struggle with finances early in the transition because they were “expecting” the VA to pay on time like DoD. The reality is that, that payment is often later than expected or needed. Having a reserve of 3 months’ rent will help you withstand the challenges with the VA. When you are looking at schools, see what they have in the way of emergency financial support.
You have served your country honorably, now it is time to reap the benefits of a college education. Don’t throw that benefit away at a school that is not accredited, or one that has a poor track record of graduating students. If it sounds too good to be true, it is. If it sounds easy, beware! Obtaining a college degree is not supposed to be easy. Good luck!
Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.