Washington, DC (Nov. 10, 2010)—The American Council on Education (ACE) today released a report which for the first time provides data on the experiences of student veterans and campus administrators during the first year of the Post-9/11 GI Bill.
Based on the results of an online survey and focus group sessions on multiple campuses in three states, Service Members in School: Military Veterans’ Experiences Using the Post-9/11 GI Bill and Pursuing Postsecondary Education also explores student experiences with transferring military training to academic credit and transitioning from military service to campus life. The report, made possible by the generous support of Lumina Foundation for Education, is part of ACE’s Serving Those Who Serve initiative and was written by Jennifer L. Steele and her colleagues at the RAND Corporation.
Among the findings:
- Approximately 24 percent of survey respondents and a substantial share of focus group participants reported that the existence of the new GI Bill had driven their decision to enroll in higher education.
- About 18 percent of survey respondents and a small share of focus group participants, mainly concentrated in private institutions, said the new GI Bill’s existence had driven their choice of higher education institution.
- Thirty-eight percent of survey respondents and numerous focus group participants reported having difficulty understanding their GI Bill benefit options and choosing the best education benefit for their needs.
“It was clear from the outset that implementing this generous new education benefit would be a challenge for both the Department of Veterans Affairs and campus administrators,” said ACE President Molly Corbett Broad. “We felt it was important, after a full year of the new benefit, to go beyond anecdote and start to gather data about the impact of the Post-9/11 GI Bill.”
“About 2 million Americans have served this country in Afghanistan and Iraq,” said Jamie Merisotis, president and CEO of Lumina Foundation. “These veterans are now poised to take advantage of the ‘new GI bill,’ and our higher education system is eager to serve them well. We think this report can give colleges and universities the information they need to do that. Clearly, returning vets deserve every chance at college success. Just as important: Our nation needs them to succeed and continue to contribute to this nation’s economic future.”
Using the Post-9/11 GI Bill
- Focus group participants were satisfied with several aspects of the law, including benefits that provide tuition and fees paid directly to the institution, a living allowance and book stipend; no requirement to pay into the new GI Bill; and ability to participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program for those enrolling in private institutions or public graduate programs.
- Challenges faced by benefit recipients include delays in receipt of tuition and living allowance payments, overpayments resulting in debt collection notices and living allowance suspensions, and limited access to required courses.
“We learned that, despite some of the early implementation challenges, the Post-9/11 GI Bill is helping veterans who would not otherwise be able to pursue higher education,” said Steele. However, while the financial support from the VA is crucial, there is also a role for higher education institutions to play in assisting veterans’ transitions. They can do this by ensuring that administrative staff understand the new GI Bill, by setting transparent and consistent rules for transferring military training to academic credits, and by providing information sessions aimed at veterans to help familiarize them with the resources available on campus.
Transferring Military Training to Academic Credits
- Approximately 57 percent of survey respondents said they had attempted to transfer military credits to academic credits. Of those, 47 percent were satisfied with the result (the average number of credits they transferred was 18).
- Among both focus group participants and survey respondents, those attending private institutions on average described more satisfaction with the credit transfer process than those attending public institutions. In particular, focus group participants at public four-year institutions visited by interviewers reported inconsistencies in credit transfer rules among academic departments.
- Only 14 percent of survey respondents and a handful of focus group participants reported that their nstitution’s credit transfer policies had been a major factor in choosing that institution. Participants at public four-year and private nonprofit institutions cited degree program offerings and reputation, while those at public two-year and private for-profit institutions cited geographic proximity, familiarity and, in the case of for-profit institutions, an institutional emphasis on adult learners.
Adapting to Life on Campus
- Focus group participants and survey respondents cited several key challenges in transitioning from military service to campus life, including meeting academic expectations that were different from what they encountered in the military; balancing academic requirements with other responsibilities, including work; relating to non-veteran peers, particularly students who had recently graduated from high school; and managing service-connected injuries including bodily injuries, traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Institutional Efforts to Adapt to Post-9/11 GI Bill
- Veterans program administrators reported increased workloads of between 50-200 percent under the new law due to increases in total GI Bill enrollment. The jump in enrollment increased the need to master details of the new law and the new certification software system, to work with the student accounts office to oversee payments and troubleshoot errors with the VA, to resubmit enrollment verifications to the VA each time a student adds or drops a course, and to assist students in understanding their benefit options.
The report also includes recommendations gathered from focus group participants and survey respondents:
- Grant Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to active Guard Reservists.
- Provide a simplified structure that reduces variation in Yellow Ribbon Program contributions among states.
- Establish an online accounting system available to both institutions and veterans to keep track of benefit eligibility and payments.
- Prompt prospective students to indicate their veteran status when first requesting information from or applying to an institution.
- Provide resources to ensure that veterans program administrators, especially school certifying officials, have adequate training and support.
- Establish consistent and transparent credit transfer guidelines.
Founded in 1918, ACE is the major coordinating body for all the nation’s higher education institutions, representing more than 1,600 college and university presidents, and more than 200 related associations, nationwide. It provides leadership on key higher education issues and influences public policy through advocacy.
Lumina Foundation for Education, an Indianapolis-based private foundation, is committed to enrolling and graduating more students from college-especially 21st century students: low-income students, students of color, first-generation students and adult learners. Lumina’s goal is to increase the percentage of Americans who hold high-quality degrees and credentials to 60 percent by 2025. Lumina pursues this goal in three ways: by identifying and supporting effective practice, through public policy advocacy, and by using our communications and convening power to build public will for change. For more information, logon to www.luminafoundation.org.