- Veterans using GI Bill benefits are overrepresented at private, for-profit colleges and underrepresented in public, four-year and high-graduation rate institutions, a recent report from Ithaka S+R found.
- Only 10% of veterans using their education benefits attend high-graduation rate institutions, compared to 21% of the general student population. At the same time, about two-thirds (65%) of veterans were enrolled in colleges with graduation rates under 50%, while only about half (51%) of all students were.
- About one-third of student veterans attend a for-profit institution, which tend to have lower graduation rates. And although veterans made up about 5% of all college enrollment at IPEDS institutions during the 2015-16 academic year, they represented 13% of students enrolled in for-profits.
Although the report notes student veterans tend to perform better and graduate at higher rates than some other student populations, several barriers exist to their enrollment at high-graduation rate institutions.
For one, veterans may think these colleges aren't for them due to their selectivity, high sticker price or campus culture. Further, some veterans may not know these colleges exist because their advisors could push them toward less selective institutions.
Top institutions have historically enrolled few veterans. At the nation's most selective colleges, veterans represent less than 1% of the undergraduate population, The Washington Post reported. Moreover, these colleges often don't have the same infrastructure in place that some state universities and community colleges do to help them transition from military life into college life.
Some elite institutions have been trying to increase their outreach and set up more supports for veterans, with varying levels of success. Columbia University, for example, enrolled roughly 800 veterans in the spring of 2018, according to the report. That's due in large part to its School of General Studies, which makes it easier for veterans to transfer credits earned while in the military.
The report recommends other colleges follow suit by simplifying the process for transferring credits, which many veterans do not want to forfeit by enrolling as a new student. Possible solutions include increasing the allotted number of transfer students or allowing veterans who enroll as first-year students to still apply their earned credits to some courses.
Other colleges have also been stepping up campus supports for veterans in recent years, including the University of Southern California, which opened a military family mental health clinic, and the University of Georgia, which has devoted a resource center to provide student veterans with academic supports and career advice.
The report also suggests colleges consider the value of veterans' military training during the application process.
VetLink, a nonprofit that assists veterans with college admissions, helps applicants show how the credentials and skills they learned in the military have prepared them for college. So far, the organization has partnered with 19 colleges, including Cornell University, Yale University and the University of Notre Dame, to enroll veterans.
Several other organizations have emerged to help veterans succeed at high-performing institutions. The Warrior-Scholar Project, for example, aims to maximize veterans' college choices by helping them become informed consumers. And the Posse Veterans Program helps those pursuing bachelor's degrees at top institutions by providing them with training before they enroll and with mentoring once they start attending.
However, the report notes, these strategies have not yet been realized at scale, and colleges could be doing a better job recruiting and advising veterans.
Recent policy changes may also increase higher education access to veterans. The Forever GI Bill signed in 2017 ended a 15-year limit on veterans' ability to use their education benefits. It also restored benefits for students whose colleges shut down during a semester. That could be critical for the many veterans who are attending or have attended for-profit institutions, which have seen a number of high-profile closures recently.