Published on 2013/04/19

Three Common Problems Veterans Face in Higher Education Institutions

Three Common Problems Veterans Face in Higher Education Institutions
As more military veterans enroll in higher education institutions, colleges and universities across the country need to implement or improve services to make non-traditional higher education more responsive to this group’s unique needs.

Just as the transition from military to civilian life brings with it many challenges for veterans, so, too, does the transition to college life.

Colleges and universities who serve, or want to serve, military and veteran students need to ensure they have the proper programs and policies in place to support them. The more challenges this unique population faces, the more likely they are to “stop gap” (take a break). This is dangerous for the student and the institution because many who stop gap will never resume their college education.

Let’s take a look at the three common challenges veterans face as they enter the college environment and how institutions can do their part to ease the transition.

Appropriate Advising

Students who self-identify as military or veterans need advisors educated on the best way to access and maximize the education benefits for which they are eligible. This includes not only financial aid and veterans benefits, but the acceptance of credit for military training as provided through the Community College of the Air Force, and the Joint Services Military transcript of the Army, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard. A veteran who is knowledgeable and empowered to make the necessary decisions about his or her education will take control of his or her educational future.

Trained Staff and Faculty

While not all staff who work with military and veteran students need to have a military background, it is important that staff who do not are well trained in the challenges military and veteran students face. Veterans need to be able to talk with faculty and staff who can empathize with their situation and understand the military culture and background they bring to the classroom. One way Grantham University ensures our veterans are supported in the online classroom is by taking each faculty member through a “Military Culture 101” training. This training educates faculty on how to be a military-friendly instructor, the strengths of a military student, the challenges they face and how to effectively communicate and support them in the classroom.

Transfer of Credit

Research shows that the longer it takes a student to earn a degree, the less likely he or she is to reach graduation. Because the average service member attends three colleges before completing a degree [1], transfer credit plays an important role in the time it takes a veteran to complete a degree. There are three steps colleges and universities can take to minimize transfer credit issues:

  1. Prior Learning Evaluation: Have clearly defined policies in place to evaluate military training and experience for credit. To make the military training and experience evaluation process a smooth one for colleges and universities, the American Council on Education (ACE) has a program that establishes recommended equivalent college credits for military training and service experiences. More than 1,800 higher learning institutions, including Grantham University, are members of ACE and use its credit recommendations as a guide.

  2. Knowledgeable and Open Staff: Staff working in admissions and evaluations who interface with veterans need to be knowledgeable about the institution’s transfer credit policies and the acceptance of credit for military training. They also need to be comfortable talking with veterans about their options. Doing so ensures a veteran’s military training is properly evaluated and that appropriate credit is granted.

  3. Clear Transfer Credit Policy: Have a clearly defined transfer credit policy that does not adversely penalize transfer students. Student veterans transferring to a new higher education institution should not have to re-take a course equivalent to one they have already completed and passed at another accredited institution. This only prolongs their time to graduation, which could result in their not graduating at all.

One larger issue related to transfer credits that will require colleges and universities to work together to resolve is transferring credit between nationally- and regionally-accredited institutions. This should not be an issue among schools that are accredited and recognized equally by the U.S. Department of Education. However, there are restrictive transfer credit policies that reject credits out of hand, and these are unfair to service members and veterans who have worked diligently to successfully complete college coursework at an institution of their choosing.

While the three challenges outlined above are the most common, they are just the tip of the iceberg. Recently, I had the opportunity to co-chair a Blue Ribbon Taskforce for Military and Veteran Education. Our charge was to develop a series of best practice recommendations that can be used by any college or university. To learn more about this initiative and the best practice recommendations put forth, visit: Blue Ribbon Taskforce Report.

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[1] “Educational Attainment” (2012) Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges

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Readers Comments

Ian Richardson 2013/04/19 at 10:55 am

You’re right in naming transfer credits as one of the most important determinants of student veteran success. I’ve been working with student veterans for about two years now and I have yet to meet one who has not attended more than one institution. Recognition for prior learning is always one of the first questions these students ask me about. Articulating a clear transfer credit policy is one thing, but let’s also look at how to build flexibility into that system so that student veterans are not having to repeat courses, thereby lengthening time to degree completion.

Bill Wright 2013/04/19 at 2:51 pm

I highly recommend reading the task force’s report for an in-depth look at the profile of military students and the challenges they face. One recommendation that stuck out to me was the need for higher education institutions to develop a system to track the success of these students. Institutions currently have methods to measure and track student success at large, but it’s important to have specific indicators for this subgroup because the way they access education might be so different from that of the traditional student. Measuring success is an important first step in determining whether we are effectively reaching this group of students and, if not, what needs to change.

Landon Lee 2014/05/20 at 7:05 am

Sorry for posting on an old thread, but in the off chance anothe vet stumbles in here I feel it is worth posting my experience.

I attended a state school and expected my SMART transcripts containing the ACE credits from my highly technical MOS to correlate into real credits. Instead I recieved worthless elective credits that wouldn’t even go towards my degree. My roommate (forced to live a dorm because it’s policy for “freshmen”) was doing a course on bowling that was worth more elective credits than my SatComm trainning credits. The credit equivalent system need to take in account that our schooling in the military is not 1hr/every other day like in college courses, rather it’s a minimum of 12hrs/day for up to and longer than a month. Plus we have the prac app of those skills. Having to take a required comm 101 class teaching me how to better use Twitter and Facebook as a COMM Marine was salt in the wound to the devaluation of my training and life I had while enlisted.

What I took away from my college experience was that schools view 4 years minimum of living a skill set 24 hrs a day, less than bowling a couple days a week. I hated my college experience and hated never having a real teacher that I was giving thousands of dollars for (every class is taught by student aids).

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