Ensuring Military Veterans Succeed in Student Role

This week we are honoring military veterans who are an asset to the country they once served in a military capacity. The skills they learned in the military and the work experience they gained while serving represent a wealth of resources for businesses and employers. With skills and work experience behind them, many vets return to school to complete their education. Supports from schools and employers can help veterans make the most of their higher education.

Military Veterans are a dynamic portion of the non-traditional student population:
• 10-14 percent of military personnel are women, but 21-27 percent of student veterans are female
• 73-80 percent of student veterans are male
• 15 percent of student veterans are traditional age college students; most are age 24-40
• 47.3 percent of student veterans are married; 47 percent have children

Many of these veterans went into the military with higher education as their ultimate goal, knowing that they could have financial assistance from the Post 9/11 G.I. Bill. For others higher education now is an option that didn’t seem valuable or attainable when they first enlisted, and another group may see higher education as a way to transition to civilian life. Whatever the motivation for enrolling in higher education, veterans have many characteristics that they can make them successful students, and whatever best practices colleges and businesses use to help veterans be successful will help all students succeed.

Veterans’ Strengths as Students
The American Council on Education Student Veterans/Service Members’ Engagement in College and University Life and Education gives insight to characteristics of veterans as students. Many of these strengths and characteristics are related to their experiences in the military:

Veterans are well-versed in setting goals and defining the steps to achieve them. Through their military experience they know how to set priorities and hold themselves accountable.

Veterans age 25 and over show somewhat greater cultural sensitivity than non-veteran or civilian students because of the diversity they found in the military. This can be an advantage for these students when they are working with a diverse student population and an even greater advantage as they join a diverse workforce.

Student veterans carefully allocate their time. Because they may be first-generation students or older than traditional college age, veterans often have work or family responsibilities outside of school. They put emphasis on using their time for academic work, rather than campus activities or co-curricular activities that many not be as important for their academic success. They may not participate in internships or other activities that others think are important to education success because they already have real-life experiences that have more meaning to them.

Using TAP to Benefit Veterans
Best practices in a tuition program can build on veterans’ military experience:

• Solid counseling can help military veterans structure a pathway for career and education success. Veterans know how to establish goals, but because the military culture is different from higher education, veterans can benefit from counseling that teaches them how to apply their skills differently. Structured advising can help them break the goal into smaller pieces – a path through a specific program to achieve the desired outcome.
• Help veterans use military experience as an advantage. The knowledge the veteran brings to a specific task and the organization as a whole is a solid base for a career path. Outline the path to create the most direct route to attainment. Show veterans how they can use the TAP to “be all that they can be.”
• Veterans are used to working as part of an organization. Show them how their education fits into company goals and how their education is part of a bigger picture.
• Include alternative forms of education credit as part of TAP. With their military give experiences veterans can earn CBE credits and take PLA exams. Many veterans have earned certifications in the military. These can be the basis of continued education through TAP
• A mentoring structure is familiar to military veterans, and it can help them succeed as well as benefit the business. “The military also emphasizes peer-to-peer mentoring, assigning more-seasoned members of a unit to work with new recruits, says Charles G. Krulak, a former Marine Corps commandant and retired president of Birmingham-Southern College. The buddy system serves as the “first line of defense” against retention or performance problems, General Krulak says. ‘If your partner is falling down on assignments or struggling with tasks, “you’re on them like ravens on roadkill.’ ”

TAP practices that build on veterans military success help create success for them as students, building a momentum that benefits both students and businesses.

Because the higher education culture is different from the military environment, student veterans along with all non-traditional students can benefit from counseling that teaches them how to use these skills to complete an educational program.