Student Veterans/Service Members' Engagement in College and University Life and Education

by Young M. Kim; James S. Cole

Dec 1, 2013
Since the passage of the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008, also known as the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the enrollment of active-duty service members and veterans in American colleges and universities has increased substantially. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, more than three-quarters of a million veterans have used their earned benefit to enroll in postsecondary courses. In response to the influx of veteran student enrollment, a group of higher education associations and veterans' organizations collaborated in 2009 and 2012 on a study that asked college and university administrators whether their institutions had geared up campus programs and services specifically designed to support the unique needs of veterans.1 The results indicated that administrators had indeed increased support levels, sometimes by quite significant margins. But how do student veterans/service members perceive their experiences at higher education institutions? To date, there is little or no information to assess whether the efforts by institutions to provide targeted programs and services are helpful to the veterans and service members enrolled in colleges and universities. Similarly, not much is known about the transition to postsecondary education from military service experienced by student veterans/service members, or whether these students are engaged in both academic programs and college and university life to their fullest potential. In this context, this issue brief explores student veteran/service member engagement in postsecondary education. The brief utilizes data from the 2012 National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), an annual survey of students enrolled in four-year universities, to assess how student veterans/service members perceive their integration on campus. A key finding is that student veterans/servicemembers are selective about the campus life and academic activities in which they invest their time. Student veterans/service members are morelikely to be first-generation students -- the first in their families to attend a college or university -- and older than nonveteran/civilian students; they therefore tend to have responsibilities outside of higher education that put constraints on their time. Student veterans/service members report placing greater emphasis on academic areas that they find essential for academic progress than on college and university life and activities -- academic or otherwise -- that are not essential for success in the courses in which they are enrolled. Student veterans/ service members are less likely to participate in co curricular activities, and they dedicate less time to relaxing and socializing than nonveteran/ civilian students.
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