Student VeteransUpdated: March 20, 2021
More than 200,000 veterans leave military service every year. Many of them are pursuing higher education, new careers, and new opportunities using their military education benefits.
The face of those veteran education benefits has changed a great deal since the passage of the very first version of the GI Bill back in 1944.
Today, veterans and currently serving military members can transfer their GI Bill benefits to dependent children or spouses–something that was NOT an option in the earlier days of the Montgomery GI Bill and subsequently addressed by the Post 9/11 GI Bill and the Forever GI Bill.
New recruits have no more time limits on when they can take advantage of their GI Bill benefits, and there are stipends and payments that cover a variety of educational needs and housing needs associated with education.
What does a student veteran look like? There are many issues that affect a veteran’s decision to leave the military, and just as many issues post-military inform these veterans when deciding to pursue higher education. Student veterans come from many different backgrounds and follow as many diverse career paths through higher education.
Benefits of Being a Student Veteran
Student veterans face a number of obstacles and fortunately benefits are not just limited to the GI Bill. Benefits will vary by education institution and area but here are some of the many benefits that be found at a typical Military Friendly College.
- Tuition discounts & scholarships
- School credit for military training
- Discounted or free textbooks & supplies
- Student veteran dedicated counselors and staff
- Student veteran housing options
- Change of Order withdrawal
- Other programs such as the Tuition Assistance programs
- State and local veterans education benefits
Student Veterans Of America (SVA)
Student veterans attending school using VA education benefits in the 21st century have several advantages over students who left a life in uniform to pursue school in the 90s or even the early 2000s. One such advantage is a nationwide agency called Student Veterans Of America which operates in thousands of communities where veterans want to attend school.
SVA started as a grassroots movement among student veterans. According to the SVA official site, many of these students found that when they came home from post-9/11 military operations such as Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom, “they found that their campuses did not provide adequate support services” to help veterans meet their educational goals.
In 2008, a variety of small organizational efforts combined to create the agency Student Veterans of America. SVA was incorporated in 2008 and provides support for student veteran organizations on the local level.
Since 2008, the SVA site claims, more than a million veterans have left military service to pursue a post-secondary degree, a certificate, or other credentials using their VA education benefits. SVA has a local presence with more than 1,300 chapter affiliates and partner organizations.
SVA Research Into Student Veterans
Student vets responded to a poll conducted by Student Veterans Of America. This information was compiled using data from the National Veteran Education Success Tracker and the 2016 SVA Census. What does that data include? Some revealing information about the strengths and interests of vets who are going back to school, including:
- Student veterans are more likely to graduate than their non-veteran peers.
- “To date, using the GI Bill,” SVA reports that more than 340,000 veteran students have completed a post-secondary degree or have earned a certificate. The SVA site further cites veteran student success since 2009 with a 74% success rate, and a 54% completion rate.
- SVA projects some 100,000 student veteran degrees awarded each year.
- The national average for student GPAs is roughly 2.94 with veterans averaging GPAs around 3.5.
- A majority of veterans surveyed were not working on degrees related to their military experience. Only 2% reported getting degrees that were “exactly the same” as their military fields.
- A significant portion of the degrees student veterans pursue are related to STEM fields such as science, tech, engineering, or math.
Who Are Veteran Students?
Veterans entering higher education after leaving military service tend toward certain demographics, according to SVA data. The modern veteran student is more likely to be over the age of 25, more likely to be a married student, and 46% of veterans surveyed have children. Another SVA statistic? 46% of student vets are likely to be employed while attending school.
70% of vet students use the GI Bill, but roughly 32% of student vets may also use federal education loans and personal funds to pay for some schooling.
About 51% of the veteran students surveyed reported attending school with a disability; more than 80% reported that this situation caused stress or other hardship while attending classes.
Student vets are not necessarily “first-generation” college enrollees; about 67% of all vet students involved in the survey have parents with “some college.”
Issues Facing Student Veterans
In 2015, SVA responded to a report issued by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) report addressing complaints registered by veteran students (among many others) identifying “obstacles they face when attempting to assert protections afforded to them through their military service.”
The CFPB report, Overseas & Underserved: Student Loan Servicing and the Cost to Our Men and Women in Uniform, included some revealing numbers including some $60 million paid in compensation in May 2014 alone–all paid to some 70,000-plus servicemembers in an action taken against student loan servicers including Sallie Mae and Navient, “related to their application of benefits under the Servicemember Civil Relief Act (SCRA) to active duty members of the military” according to the report.
The money paid was in compensation for “continued mistakes handling servicemembers’ student loan repayments, resulting in improper denials of legal benefits, negative credit reporting, and shoddy follow-through on legal protections for military families” according to the SFPB report.
Many of the problems identified from reports and studies like these have been addressed in a variety of ways, but no system is perfect; these problems can be complicated by what CFPB reports as a lack of understanding of SCRA protections and a lack of proper application of SCRA rules.
“Military deferments are denied without adequate explanation, applied in a haphazard way, and, in some cases, are approved verbally but never applied to military borrowers’ accounts” which in the past resulted in late fees, debt collection, etc.
The CFPB report added that at the time of the study, loan servicers “still do not appear to understand” how SCRA protections work. While student veterans are protected by a series of modifications, updates, and re-writes of laws and guidelines intended to smooth the way for student vets, there is much work to be done in raising the awareness of student veteran rights, protections, and responsibilities.
It pays to be a well-informed student and knowing what you should be receiving with your educational benefits (as well as your responsibilities to finish coursework, maintain the required GPA and satisfactory progress) will go a long way toward helping student vets successfully complete an education program.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News