Student veterans are a diverse campus subpopulation that includes 8 percent from the active military, another 8 percent from the National Guard and Reserves and, of course, is primarily comprised of separated veterans.

Even with a brief stint in the military, or just basic training, our current and former military members are powerfully socialized into our military culture. When rejoining the civilian culture, veterans benefit from intentional support programs and supportive environments on our college campuses.

Increased university support systems

Campuses have begun to focus a lot of energy on programming for veterans as they transition out of the military and into higher education. While this is helpful, there is little real evidence that veterans struggle with their transitions to higher education.

What may be more important for college professionals, according to the authors of a recent chapter in the Higher Education Handbook of Theory and Research (Volume 29), is to examine the quality of student veteran experiences in the classroom and the level of support veterans have while in school. The experiences of student veterans in college most closely aligns with non-traditional students, which suggests that, after nominal levels of transition support and ensuring education benefits are paid, experiences in the classroom and personal support are far more significant to the success of student veterans than any other set of experiences.

"Support can come from immediate family, veteran peers or other friends or personal networks, and there is no “cookie cutter” solution, except that it is highly unlikely that this support comes from non-veteran students."

One of the most well-received student veteran theories offers that if student veterans feel validated in their academic experience, with both student peers and faculty members, this may be the most important aspect of student veteran success. This makes perfect sense since most of our veterans experience college as commuter students and the most frequent interactions with the campus are classroom-related.

Still, it is hard to envision someone moving from the military culture to the academic culture without some sort of personal support. Support can come from immediate family, veteran peers or other friends or personal networks, and there is no “cookie cutter” solution, except that it is highly unlikely that this support comes from non-veteran students.

Improving student veteran graduation rates

The government has spent nearly $50 billion in Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits to ensure that tuition and fees, book expenses and cost of living do not present a financial obstacle to earning college degrees for veterans. Unfortunately the Veterans Administration does not track degree attainment statistics for their benefit recipients.

Thus it falls to education administrators to do everything they can to support the success of student veterans. How this unfolds on each campus can vary, but ensuring veterans know about available help services, and that veterans have sufficient levels of personal support is critical to their success. Assuming that schools are effective at processing education benefits on time and accurately, the rest is up to a campus’ dedicated faculty to accommodate the individual needs of student veterans in their classes.

With these components in place, we will see graduation rates among veterans exceed those of their civilian peers as they have since the original GI Bill was implemented at the end of WWII.