Veterans In Higher Education: America’s Smart Investment

Veterans In Higher Education: America’s Smart Investment

by D. Wayne Robinson
VAntage Point

Education is one of the greatest investments a person can make in their lifetime. The pride and sense of accomplishment that comes from earning a degree stays with you as you move forward in your career and achieve new goals. For many of our military members and veterans, that achievement can take longer to come to fruition for a variety of reasons, often due to the nature of how today’s modern military operates. Most veterans are non-traditional students, and as such, they face certain challenges to degree-completion—they often put their education on hold for deployment, and are more likely to have family responsibilities that their traditional peers do not. What many wonder is, how are these veterans performing in higher education, and what are taxpayers actually getting for their investment in the GI Bill?

Having the resources to navigate many unique obstacles can make the critical difference when it comes to graduating. Student Veterans of America (SVA) is the voice for veterans pursuing postsecondary education, and we work to support the transition from warrior, to scholar, to leader. Since our founding in 2008, we have mobilized student veterans, policymakers, higher education institutions, and employers to create opportunities for student veterans. Through a variety of partnerships, leadership programs, and grant offerings, we prepare student veterans for success in higher education regardless of the level of education they seek.

Of student veterans who first completed a certificate, 31.3 percent continued on to higher levels of education; of those who first earned a two-year degree, 35.8 percent continued on; and 20.8 percent of veterans who first earned a baccalaureate-level degree went on to earn another degree at a higher level. As nontraditional students, veterans face unique challenges, and often follow different paths to completion.

It is clear, though, that veterans are persisting in their education, and graduating at levels comparable to the general population, and at rates far greater than other nontraditional students. Not only are they completing, but they’re pursuing high-demand degrees, making them highly attractive in today’s job market. Based on these findings, Americans can now see the value of their smart investment in student veterans.

Over time, we’ve demonstrated the value of investing in our student veterans by conducting rigorous and innovative research, such as our Million Records Project. This unprecedented effort examines a variety of factors that can impede and support student veteran degree completion and graduation rates. This work was envisioned, planned, and executed by SVA, and made possible through the support of several key partners. The outcomes achieved by the Million Records Project analyze the impact and success of various services and programs, and will help determine best practices and policies to promote student veteran success based on a data-driven approach

The story of the Post-9/11 generation of student veterans is one of persistence, perseverance, and success.  We know that more research is needed if we are to promote more positive outcomes for student veterans. In our next phase of research, we look forward to working with VA and the National Student Clearinghouse to replicate this study, and exclusively focusing on Post-9/11 GI Bill beneficiaries. In partnership with the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse, we’ll also be collecting direct feedback from schools to understand which programs and policies are working on campus.

We plan to correlate these findings to discover the true drivers of postsecondary success for student veterans.  SVA will then scale these effective services across our national network. Our insights will be useful not only for student veterans, but for nontraditional students as a whole.

This data snapshot also provides crucial insight into the achievement levels of student veterans and a national benchmark for student veteran graduation rates. Our research has shown that student veterans graduate at significantly higher rates than other nontraditional students, and they perform at a level comparable to traditional students. The information provided by our Million Records Project offers unprecedented insights, and highlights important follow-on research opportunities. Through our research, we’re enabling service providers, policymakers, institutions of higher education, and government agencies to make data-driven decisions about supporting student veterans. For more information about the million records project, or to learn how you can support veterans in higher education, visit our website at

President and CEO of Student Veterans of America, Robinson served in the U.S. Army and rose to the pinnacle of enlisted ranks as a Command Sergeant Major. During his career he held many leadership positions in Artillery, Special Operations, and Recruiting and graduated from every enlisted leadership course offered by the Army.

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