Studying Student Veteran Graduation Rates

soldier-vet-military-student“Graduate! Graduate! Graduate!” There was no second guessing the message VA Secretary Eric Shinseki delivered this January at the Student Veterans of America annual conference in Orlando.

Veterans’ college graduation rates also topped the topics for the journalist’s panel that followed Sec. Shinseki’s speech. Both the panel and Shinseki’s speech can be linked to some national news reports that said 88 percent of military veterans drop-out in their first year of college.

That statistic has not been substantiated and it’s been refuted by SVA:

SVA’s own research found that an NBC News article from July 2, 2012 was the first known media report this year citing the 88 percent dropout rate as fact. The source for NBC’s “statistic” is not a report, but rather a presentation published by the Colorado Workforce Development Council and the Colorado State Office of the Department of Labor’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (VETS).

The presentation cites reports from the American Council on Education (ACE) and the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pension (HELP) Committee and the book Combat Leader to Corporate Leader by Chad Storlie as the sources for the data. Not only are these documents void of such numbers, but officials for the three groups have repeatedly stated that they did not provide the information.

The problem is that very little data had been gathered about student veterans, but that’s changed thanks to a joint project with the VA, the National Student Clearinghouse and the SVA.

The first brief from that research partnership was released by the Student Veterans of America:

  • approximately 68 percent of veterans who responded reported they received the degree or certificate for which they were receiving VA educational benefits, according to the 2010 National Survey of Veterans.
  • approximately 61 percent of veterans reported attending some college or higher. In contrast, approximately 56 percent of non-veterans reported some college or higher, according to the U.S.Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

You can get the full research brief on student outcomes for Montgomery and Post-9/11 GI Bill recipients here.

Shinseki to Student Vets: Graduate, Graduate, Graduate

VA Sec. Eric Shinseki Photo credit: va.gov

VA Sec. Eric Shinseki Photo credit: va.gov

Roughly 2 million veterans and their family members are eligible for tuition, books and living expenses under the Post 9/11 GI Bill.

And like every budget line in Washington, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki told the annual gathering of Student Veterans of America that  their education benefits need to show a “return on investment”  or risk being cut.

This is the fourth time Shinseki has addressed the SVA national conference and each time he’s carried the same message.

“The one word speech I usually give is graduate, graduate, graduate,” Shinseki said punctuating his words for emphasis. “If I sound like your dad, I am. I’m paying most of your bills.”

But paying those education benefits could have a cost if the VA can’t show results.

The problem is there is very little data on student veteran graduation rates.

However, there were two media reports last year that used unsubstantiated data claiming extremely high dropout rates. Until there’s good data, veterans’ organizations say they have to continually refute the two unsubstantiated reports.

Shinseki reported that progress is being made. More than 2600 schools are now voluntarily reporting graduation rates to the VA. He said between June 2011 and December 2012 the reporting schools notified the VA that more than 62,000 veterans graduated and 4,800 completed programs.

It was standing room only for VA Sec. Eric Shinseki's keynote address at the 2013 Student Veterans of America convention in Orlando last week.

It was standing room only for VA Sec. Eric Shinseki’s keynote address at the 2013 Student Veterans of America convention in Orlando last week.

“The best measurement of success is completion rates for those who enter the education realm or the training realm,” Shinseki said. “It’s not who goes in the front door but who completes the program and moves on to successful lives.”

The VA just signed an agreement with the Student Veterans of America organization and the National Student Clearing House to create data base for post 9-11 GI bill beneficiaries.

“We are now entering the fourth year of the post 9-11 GI bill. Shot clock ticks, we need to get as much energy into this so we benefit veterans who have this opportunity that only comes around once in a rare period,” Shinseki said. “I’m a Vietnam generation guy, we didn’t have this.”

He said the original GI Bill for WWII veterans only lasted 12 years and during that time, 7.8 million GIs got an education.

Shinseki advised the 600 SVA members attending the conference to continue to do the hard work they did while serving in the military. And like a father-figure, he told the young men and women he was very proud of them.

“Do good. Take advantage of this opportunity, but help other veterans who are also going through this process with you,” Shinseki said. “You’re not a formation. There are not commanders, no first sergeants in this group. But you’re a unit. You have that shared experience. You know how to take care of each other. You know how to start a run and finish it.”

He said he would be there to cheer them on, open doors and provide resources — but he can’t write their papers or take their tests and that student veterans should be there to help each other.

Student Veterans’ Graduation Rates Yet to Be Tracked

Maralynn Bernstein (bottom left), the veterans services coordinator for the University of Arizona, confers with Cody Nicholls, director of the Veterans Education and Transition Services Center, at the school's Veterans Center in Tucson. Photo credit: Larry Abramson/NPR

Maralynn Bernstein (bottom left), the veterans services coordinator for the University of Arizona, confers with Cody Nicholls, director of the Veterans Education and Transition Services Center, at the school’s Veterans Center in Tucson. Photo credit: Larry Abramson/NPR

Record numbers of veterans are returning home from war and heading to college thanks to the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which in three short years has helped 860,000 vets go to school reports Larry Abramson of National Public Radio.

But there’s little known about how these students are doing because are no national statistics on veterans’ graduation rates.Having no national data base left the door open for inaccurate information such as a recent press report that said only 3 percent of vets were getting degrees.

Veterans’ advocates quickly debunked that number, but it just pointed to a need for data.Michael Dakduk, executive director of Student Veterans of America, is working to develop a database to show what nearly 1 million new vets are doing with the $24 billion and counting that they’ve received.

The Department of Veterans Affairs also is beginning to collect and track student data.

You can listen to Larry Abramson’s story and read more about various student veterans college programs HERE.

6 Tips for Student Veterans Heading to College

Whether you’re a first time student using the GI Bill education benefits or returning to campus to finish up your degree, the Veterans Affairs blog VAntage Point has compiled these quick tips:

  • Before you start class, make sure to certify your enrollment with the certifying official on campus, usually found within financial aid. Double check to make sure your paperwork is in order.
  • If you’re using the Post-9/11 GI Bill, you may be eligible for a book stipend. To stretch your money, consider renting your textbooks from the campus bookstore or online retailers instead of buying.
  • Make sure to notify your certifying official of any changes to your schedule once you certify. Any modifications can change your tuition or housing payments.
  • Ask around for a Veterans group on campus. Student Veteran groups have pushed for more resources and assistance at hundreds of campuses across the country. If there isn’t a group at your school, consider starting one.
  • Track announcements and information on VA’s GI Bill page. You can also follow our GI Bill Facebook page and the Veterans Benefits Administration’s Twitter feed.
  • Remember to stop, take a breath, and enjoy your time in college.

Veterans Applying for Retraining Top 30,000 and Climbing

Photo courtesy of the Dept. of Veterans Affairs.

The Hire Heroes Act of 2011 included a section for the Veterans Retraining Assistance Program (VRAP). It offers up to 12 months of training assistance to unemployed Veterans.

The Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) and the Department of Labor rolled out VRAP July 1, 2012 and as of July 9 it’s received more than 30,000 applications.

Veterans who qualify  for VRAP are:

  • Are at least 35 but no more than 60 years old
  • Are unemployed on the date of application
  • Received an other than dishonorable discharge
  • Are not be eligible for any other VA education benefit program (e.g.: the Post-9/11 GI Bill, Montgomery GI Bill, Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Assistance)
  • Are not in receipt of VA compensation due to un-employability
  • Are not enrolled in a federal or state job training program

The program is limited to 45,000 participants through September 30, 2012, and 54,000 participants from October 1, 2012, through March 31, 2014.

Details on the VRAP are available HERE.

Veterans Post 9/11 GI Bill Targeted by For-Profit Schools

Iraq war veteran Paul Rieckhoff (right) with Sens. Mark Begich (D-Ala.), Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.), introduces the GI benefit watchdog bill in Washington. Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP courtesy NPR

Authorities are investigating websites known as “lead generators” that have targeted veterans Post 9/11 GI education benefits.

The “lead generators” – some trying to appear as government websites – get veterans to share their email address and phone number and then sell that information. National Public Radio reports:

Lead generators like Quinstreet sell the information they collect primarily to for-profit colleges and universities. With their generous marketing budgets, for-profit schools can afford to pay for leads to guide them to vets considering enrolling in college.

Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway is leading a multi-state investigation of for-profit colleges. He’s scrutinizing the sites targeting veterans, trying to ensure they are “engaged in the type of consumer interaction that does not violate our various consumer protection acts in our respective states.”

In other words, he’s trying to assess if the companies are pretending to be government web sites. Some of the sites have disclaimers, but others do not.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has its own Post 9/11 GI Bill website, but does not have the marketing money to promote it like “lead generator” sites. So another tip, look for the .gov to assure it is a VA run site. If the web address ends in a .com – it’s a commercial site and you should be more cautious about sharing your contact information.

“Military Friendly” Tag Questioned, 40 SVA Chapters Closed

Does your college offer peer support and specific resources for student veterans on the Post 9/11 GI Bill? What criteria is used to measure a college’s “friendliness” to new student veterans?

Those are questions that Alex Horton asks in his blog posting. He lists some growing concerns on how some schools have misused the “military friendly” designation to attract student veterans. The VA blog, Vantage Point:

To mischaracterize the amount and quality of Veteran resources on campus in order to appear “military friendly,” then, is to undermine the crucial development period of reintegration. And as we reported yesterday, some schools use administrative staff to control student Vets groups in a bid to leverage the military friendly identity.

So what can you do to protect yourself and ensure your school can adequately support Veterans? Above all else, only trust education benefits resources from VA itself. Our GI Bill homepage, along with the GI Bill Facebook page, offers accurate news and information. There are all kinds of websites that benefit financially from offering questionable information without accountability.

The Student Veterans of America actually shutdown 40 SVA chapters based at for-profit colleges after it was discovered the chapters had no veteran members and were only being used to market the college

Michael Dakduk, SVA executive director, told the Stars and Stripes a routine review uncovered problems at the for-profit college chapters:

Numerous chapters were founded with a faculty member as the main point of contact, he said, instead of a student veteran. Those chapters were found to have no actual student members, and the SVA brand was being used by the schools’ marketing departments in recruiting efforts.

“SVA will not allow institutions of higher learning, whether for-profit or not, to use the name Student Veterans of America for the sole benefit of the institution,” he said.

The Student Veterans of America has published a full explanation behind revoking 40 chapter memberships.

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