This paper will briefly explore the impact of the Post 9/11 Educational Assistance Act of 2008 as it relates to community college veteran enrollment and the need for on-campus support resources; correspondingly, a review of research in the field will inform the identification of veteran-specific risk factors and most valuable services. Emphasis will be placed on comprehensive case management, congregation initiatives, and referral services as assets of an effective veteran center.
The GI Bill and Enrollment Surges Post 9/11
The 1970s saw a dramatic downturn in graduation rates, transfer rates, student enrollment, and general retention among veteran students. This was the result of a combination of factors which included the stigmatization of combat veterans after the Vietnam war and the end of the draft in 1972. Additionally, and possibly most importantly, educational benefits had not been re-evaluated or updated to align with growing tuition expenses or changes in requisite job training across many different fields (Moore, 2017, p.17) marking a clear decline in the quality of civilian life for servicemen upon discharge. As a consequence, recruitment and enlistment numbers suffered nationwide and new initiatives were put forward to resolve existing deficiencies.
The Montgomery GI Bill Active Duty, which was passed after several years of strenuous hearings, increased tuition assistance allowances by nearly $1000 monthly and provided separate benefits for active duty military. Further enhancements were made under the Post 9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008, which retroactively benefited those who enlisted on or following September 10, 2000. The bill, which is considered the most “generous educational benefit available today” (Kessler, 2018, p.20) incentivized enlistment and college enrollment upon re-entry in record numbers in much the same way that the original 1944 GI Bill; DeLeGarza notes that “in some college campuses surveyed, enrollment of military and veteran students… increased by up to 500% since 2009 with an estimated $36 billion in Post-9/11 GI Bill entitlement benefits as of 2013 (Lang, Harriett, & Cadet in DeLeGarza, 2016, p.1) (Moore, 2017, p.19). Approximately 84% of these military service members and veterans begin their academic careers at 2-year institutions, underscoring the community college as an essential component of post-secondary success and less directly, economic prosperity for the veteran population (DeLeGArza, 2016, p.1). These realities mandate comprehensive, targeted supports for students who have served in the military, as they often have no familiarity with the process of admission, enrollment, goal-setting, or completion.
Addressing Risk-factors of Student Veterans
Risk Factors. Veterans on community college campuses usually exist within multiple nontraditional student identities; like many adult learners, they are within the minority when it comes to age, life experience, and social responsibility. More precisely, veteran students frequently hold full-time jobs, enroll in college part-time, and act as providers in their home lives (Wheeler in De LeGarza, 2016, p.42) (Pellegrino, 2015). Additionally, they will often attend multiple institutions while earning a degree… or have mixed enrollment (i.e., fluctuate between full- and part-time enrollment)(para. 3) ( NCSL in Moore, 2017, p.31). Dividing time between academic coursework, mother/or fatherhood, and work can cultivate emotional maturity, focus, and leadership skill, but having many obligations can also contribute to the layered alienation veterans feel when socializing with “non-military peers” (Kessler, 2018, p. 35). Difficulties are presented in areas both practical and emotional, as these students struggle against damages obtained in or because of combat such as benefit delays, PTSD, and intermittent feelings of anxiety, shock, depression, and isolation.
Theoretical Frameworks for Addressing Needs. On-campus veteran centers attempt to mitigate some of these issues, taking the unique values and experiences of student veterans into account when designing service offerings and educational planning methods. Military training prioritizes the importance of congregation, service to the group over the individual, and respect for established structures of authority and seniority (Kessler, 2018, p.74) and so theoretical frameworks for veteran assistance often draw from Astin and Schlossberg, scholars who emphasize community, congregation, and relationships as tools for improving self-efficacy(Moore, 2017, p.6-7) (Pellegrino, 2015).
Factors contributing to Student Satisfaction with Services Offered.
Centers generate favorable responses when they provide opportunities for veteran students to meet each other and form bonds through events, workshops, and special courses; The CMFV in North Carolina for example “offers career seminars, Veterans Day events, and other workshops to assist in the academic success of veterans. To this end, and to assist the veteran in his or her daily life, the CMFV staff connects veterans with existing community services and advocates for the development of new services to meet the growing need (Moore, 2017,p.4). DeLeGarza, who used the Community College Survey of Men to determine needs and effectiveness strategies for vet centers, suggests that personal bonds are sometimes the root of endurance. His research shows that “using counseling-based interventions to communicate to student veterans that they possess the ability to complete studies based on the strength of character required, gained, and instilled through military service” inspires confidence and is a necessary supplement to general efficiency (DeLeGarza, 2016, p.51). This may be why faculty-student interaction is a highly impactful in inspiring motivation and persistence among student veterans(Chaves, 2006 in Pellegrino, 2015). A functional veteran center must account for intrinsic motivation as well as expediency.
Comprehensive solutions which simplify the college process by providing “professional counseling, career coaching, enrollment and benefit support, academic planning, and case management” (Kessler, 2018, p.74) tend to garner greater usage. These “one-stop-shops”, as Kessler refers to them, employ case managers, advisers, and counselors who serve highly specialized functions, can build rapport with students, and provide a clear plan for coursework, referrals, and advisement with registration, credit loads, graduation, and purchase of supplies. Veterans are more likely to use a campus center if they can see a specific person for each service, “for example, a person dedicated to veteran academic advising is necessary as well as a specific veteran orientation program” (Herman et al in Kessler, 2018, p.30). Accordingly, veteran centers with more general staff deter Veterans from usage as this structure feels chaotic and scattered in comparison to military structures.
Importance of Retaining Student Veterans:
The importance of retaining veteran students is plural. On the one hand, they tend to transfer and/ or complete programs of study at a higher rate than non-military students: “First year non-veteran college students transfer at a rate of 9% and that rate rises to 41% by their senior year; non-combat veteran first year students transfer at a rate of 28% and that rate rises to 71% by senior year; combat veterans first year students transfer at a rate of 45% and that rate rises to 80% by senior year (National Survey of Student Engagement [NSSE], 2010, p. 17). It follows that a community college with a healthy, supported student veteran population will excel in areas of educational quality and student achievement. Military friendly institutions also tend to attract both community engagement and opportunities for financial support (Moore, 2018, p.17). Therefore, institutions which not only erect centers for Veteran students, but also implement proven methods for student satisfaction, are projected to gain credibility as the influx of veteran enrollment continues.
De Lagarza, T., Manuel, M., Wood, J., & Harris, F. (2016). Military and Veteran Student Achievement in Postsecondary Education: A Structural Equation Model Using the Community College Survey of Men (CCSM). Community College Enterprise, 22(1), 43-54.
Kessler, S., & Brent, Brian. (2018). Veteran and Military Student Satisfaction With Student Services at a Community College in Western New York, ProQuest Dissertations and Theses.
Moore, T. T. (2017). Evaluation of a community college veteran center and student veteran success (Order No. 10637560). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (1966524367). Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.libproxy.nau.edu/docview/1966524367?accountid=12706
Pellegrino, L., Hoggan, C., & Fishback, S. (2015). A Tale of Two Transitions: Female Military Veterans During Their First Year at Community College. Adult Learning, 26(3), 124-131.