Soldier to Student
Introduction
Coming Home
The Transition to College Life
Education Options
Programs, Grants, and Assistance
Veteran-Friendly College Programs
FYI: This and That
Chapter Resources: Further Reading

There's a surge coming to America.

Tens of thousands of new veterans are returning to the workforce or to college now and in the next few years, as the military downsizes after wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and as the Pentagon budget is pared back.

The Army is drawing down to 490,000 troops from its current 522,000. Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel has proposed even steeper cuts in his latest budget, which would reduce the Army alone to its smallest size since before World War II — about 440,000 troops by 2017, if approved.

And that ultimately means more vets on college campuses everywhere. Here are some facts, provided by the Veterans Administration:

  • 2000-2012: 900,000 veterans and military servicemembers received VA education benefits.
  • 2009-2010: Years of the largest influx, a 42 percent increase in benefits received, due to the new Post 9/11 GI Bill taking effect.

Helping veterans go to college and stick with it until they graduate is the focus of this mini course.

Soldiers are coming home from all branches of the services and many will pick up their lives where they left off, or try to anyway, either by going to work or by enrolling in college to further their chances of finding a better paying job.

What follows is a list that summarizes the population of the various active duty services, as of the end of 2013. A percentage of these soldiers will inevitably make their way onto college campuses, the VA notes. Veterans have high educational aspirations; among those who only have a high school degree, 74 percent hope to achieve a college degree or more.

EnlistedOfficers
Army452,06487,610
Navy275,29651,388
Marines178,21320,202
Air Force258,09564,805
Coast Guard33,2288,134
Total1,196,897232,139
Combined Total1,429,036
The pool of active duty soldiers as of the end of 2013

Meanwhile, just as the student-veteran has to adjust to civilian campus life, it also true that college institutions have to adjust to these new student-warriors. In fact, colleges have not faced such a significant influx of veteran students on campus since World War II.

65 percent of colleges and universities that offer services to veterans and military personnel have increased their emphasis on these student-veteran services since September 11, 2001, including 70 percent of four-year public institutions, 65 percent of public community colleges, and 57 percent of private not-for-profit four-year colleges and universities.

The top two areas of emphasis, regardless of sector, have been the establishment of new programs and services for servicemembers and veterans, and the establishment of marketing and outreach strategies to attract veterans and military personnel.

The transition from the intensity of military life to a more self-sufficient civilian life can be overwhelming, with difficulties ranging from readjustment issues to recovery from physical and mental injuries. In some ways, leaving the military after a prolonged career is similar to the experiences of laid-off workers: both groups may feel disoriented and suffer losses of identity and work-related friendships.

Authorities in higher education are still learning about the educational and personal needs of this newest generation of veterans and their families, but there are a number of programs and services that campuses are providing to ease veterans’ transition and boost their chances of success.

To deal with these issues, many schools have implemented strategies to keep veterans in school. They include:

  • Specialized orientation programs, helping veterans connect with one another
  • Offering more counselling
  • Financial aid
  • Training their own faculty and staff on the challenges veterans face

Some veterans may be wounded or suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome. Universities should be able to help them use the many technologies that assist in reading, hearing, or communicating in the classroom. Some veterans may need to bring service dogs with them, or need to carry a reduced course load.

Other challenges on campuses can include:

  • 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
  • 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 veterans.

As a veteran, you’ll have two main career choices: you can stick with a civilian version of your military career field or venture out into a new career path. If you elect the former, you may need help translating your military occupation into a civilian job. Military.com's online skills translator matches civilian jobs to your military occupation and training. The translator also features estimates on salaries, training required, and upward mobility.

Choosing a new career path might be a better way to go. In fact, your military training and experience may qualify you for a wide range of civilian careers you haven't considered. Many military specialities give servicemembers experience in human resource management, office administration, maintenance, data entry, and computer software engineering.

Veterans have many educational opportunities available to them. These programs exist to prepare veterans for the civilian workforce and to make the switch from military to civilian life smoother for vets and their families.

Here are three simple suggestions for how veterans can start their college training:

  1. Use guides available through the VA to hone in on a school. The VA has posted a guide called 'Factors to consider when choosing a school: A guide before using the GI bill,' that will help a veteran or dependent get started."
  2. Reach out to your selected school certifying official and determine the documents they require during the enrollment process.
  3. Apply for VA benefits by completing a Veterans Online Application. This application will inform you about benefits you might be eligible for and enrol you into their benefit program.

The VA has also implemented a GI Bill Comparison Tool that provides beneficiaries an assortment of information about institutions of higher education to help inform their decision about where they will attend.

The GI Bill is the most helpful program available to veterans, for it provides direct payment to vets enrolled in college classes. There are several GI Bill benefit programs available based on the eligibility of the veteran as determined by the VA.

Generally, GI Bill benefits are not calculated as part of the federal financial aid programs available to all students. So based on the particular GI Bill program you are using, the you may have to make use of other federal education programs to pay for your education. Several types of GI Bill programs are available:

  • Montgomery GI Bill:  This program is available to veterans who left active duty prior to 9/11. Veterans must use the benefit within 10 years of separation. The Montgomery GI Bill has an active duty and reserve program. Based on the date of enlistment of the servicemember and periods of active duty, the servicemember may be entitled to other GI Bill benefits.
  • Post 9/11 GI Bill:  The bill provides educational financial assistance for eligible veterans in the form of direct payment of tuition and fees to their school, and direct payment to the veteran of a housing and book allowance. To be eligible, veterans must have entered the service after 9/11 and must have served at least 90 days, or at least 30 days if they sustained a service-connected disability (see details below).
  • Yellow Ribbon Program:  The Yellow Ribbon Program is part of the Post 9/11 GI Bill. It is a program for eligible veterans that allows them to afford a private college or university education. To be eligible, the veteran must be 100 percent eligible for the Post 9/11 GI Bill. The Yellow Ribbon Program allows private colleges and universities to partner with the VA and to fund tuition and fee expenses that exceed the amount paid under the Post 9/11 GI Bill.

It's important to note that the costs associated with schools vary, but the amount of educational benefits available through the Post 9/11 GI Bill will not exceed an annual cap of $19,198.13 for private or foreign schools. Therefore, if a veteran picks a program that costs more than their GI Bill benefit will pay, he or she will have to make plans to cover the difference.

Here’s how you can qualify for the GI Bill: It’s based on the aggregate period of active duty you’ve served after Sept. 10, 2001. For example, if you’ve served at least 36 months after 9/11 2001, you are entitled to 100 percent of maximum payable benefit.

If you’ve served at least 30 continuous days (and discharged due to 100% service-connected disability): you are also entitled to 100% of maximum benefits. Additionally:

  • 30-36 months: 90% of max. benefits
  • 24-30 months: 80%
  • 18-24 months: 70%
  • 12-18 months: 60%
  • 6-12 months: 50%
  • 90 days to 6 months: 40%

The Post-9/11 GI Bill has made billions of dollars in education benefits available to veterans, servicemembers, and their families to complete their post-secondary education. It provides up to full tuition, a monthly housing stipend, and money for books and supplies.

According to a May 2013 report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the VA provided nearly $10 billion in education benefits to almost one million veterans and beneficiaries in 2011, the bulk of that under the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Additionally, the US Department of Defence (DOD) reported that 325,000 active-duty servicemembers enrolled in post-secondary courses in 2011, using more than $1 billion in funding made available through the DOD Voluntary Education Program.

So, was the $11 billion spent to send 1.3 million beneficiaries to college worth it? That is open to debate.

In July 2012, NBCnews.com and the Huffington Post published a controversial article stating that 88 percent of veterans drop out of college within the first year, and only 3 percent graduate.

In May 2013, the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and the Students Veterans of America (SVA) launched an initiative to help student veterans through this process. Those experiencing difficulty accessing GI Bill information can email 1studentveteran@vfw.org for assistance.

The VA's GI Bill website offers resources to assist former servicemembers and dependants in securing educational benefits. You can also find a list of the best colleges for veterans here.

44% of veterans reported that they are either a full time (30%) or part time (14%) student. Among those students, 2/3 say they are using the Post-9/11 GI bill. Here’s a tool for those who want to crunch numbers: New GI bill calculator

The student population rises among the unemployed (53%) and not seeking (70%) segments, both of which were more likely to name “lacking education” as a barrier to employment. Here is a document that might clarify the issue for you: Veterans Employment Challenges

Here is a Military to College Guide put out by the Student Veterans of America.

The American Council on Education offers an online resource called the Toolkit for Veteran Friendly Institutions, which highlights a number of best practices, including veterans orientations, on-campus veteran-service centers, prospective student-outreach efforts, faculty training, and counselling and psychological services for student veterans. It also includes video clips, profiles of student-veteran programs across the US, and a searchable database of tools and resources.

The 8 Keys to Success program developed by the Obama Administration, the Department of Education (ED), and the VA (with the help of more than 100 education experts) identifies eight steps that colleges and universities can take to help veterans and servicemembers transition into the classroom and thrive there.

Other useful sources of information include SVA and the Service members Opportunity Colleges (SOC). The latter functions in cooperation with 15 higher education associations, the Department of Defense, and active and reserve components of the military services to expand and improve post-secondary education opportunities for service members worldwide.

InsideTrack has also published several documents related to student veteran and servicemember success, including an e-book, Quick Tips for Supporting Military Students and Student Veterans; another entitled The Decision-Making Behavior of Post-Traditional Students; and a report called Measuring the Success of Student Veterans and Active-Duty Military Students. All are available on the organization's website http://www.insidetrack.com/