Published on 2013/04/19

Psychological Invisibility: Veterans in Higher Education (Part 2)

Psychological Invisibility: Veterans in Higher Education (Part 2)
Universities must explore how to expand the identities of military veteran students beyond their time spent in the military in order to adequately prepare them for the civilian workforce and society.

If universities are committed to student veteran success — beyond access and completion — we need to widen our scope. For starters, we can seek to minimize stigmatization by discussing the unique needs and perspectives of student veterans with our faculty, staff, administrators and students, which are impacted by the various cultures, languages, nationalities, socio-economic statuses and experiences (combat and non-combat) within the forces. Moreover, we need to explore opportunities to develop programs that enhance psychological visibility versus programs which may seem one-size-fits-all. We need to provide student veterans an opportunity to explore a liberal arts education and curb our tendency to rush them through a degree; this, of course, would require a change in the institution’s philosophy, policies and pedagogy.

For instance, the average student in the United States takes approximately 4.5 years to complete a bachelor’s degree. These four years provide the student an opportunity for social and identity exploration, which solidifies the content learned and grants the student an opportunity to challenge or reaffirm his or her values and beliefs. Unfortunately, the current educational benefits for veterans are narrower, and dismisses this experience by forcing veterans into a completion date with time limitations that do not take into consideration that the first year of course work for veterans and non-veteran students is a time for exploration.

As a Marine Corps veteran, I challenge the notion that all veterans are alike and are prepared to enter college without exploring and developing their own identities. In fact, veterans are more at risk of being psychologically marginalized, stigmatized and deprived of an identity than the average student, and veterans also face their own challenges of development. By embracing the student veteran and tenets such as: individual worldviews, diverse values, interpersonal relationships and autonomy — which are tenets used to reaffirm and establish psychological visibility and identity — we will in turn nurture and secure a lifelong commitment to learning and stewardship.

In closing, universities that wish to enhance access and success for student veterans need to explore how student identity theories apply to their student veteran population and ensure the student veteran has an identity that goes beyond being “green.” Through an active collaboration between student services and academic affairs, we can develop unique programs that solidify, enhance and sustain psychological visibilities and, in turn, the student veteran will finally get closer to knowing what he or she can do with a degree.

This is the conclusion of Jose Coll’s series on better serving veteran students by better understanding their identity and needs. To read the first part, please click here.

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Readers Comments

Xavier Fleming 2013/04/19 at 8:16 am

Coll identifies some interesting tactics for improving the educational experiences of student veterans. I think the key point he makes is that we haven’t done a good job of talking to this group of students about what they want to get out of higher education. For example, Coll brings up the common conception (or misconception, it turns out) that student veterans want to finish their degrees quickly, and counters that by arguing that having extra time to complete their education is an important aspect of their self development. This demonstrates the importance of talking to student veterans to determine how best to meet their needs and expectations.

Eric Csergo 2013/04/19 at 1:50 pm

This series opened my eyes to the unique challenges student veterans face. I had always thought that culture and upbringing could have an impact on the way one experienced higher education, but I had a narrow idea of what ‘culture’ meant, limiting it mainly to ethnicity or geography. But Coll described a military culture and showed how it could impact the way student veterans learn. As an educator, this is important to know. Institutions should be required to offer faculty and staff training to make them more ‘culturally competent’ to work with these students.

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