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Efforts Underway to Determine College Graduation Rates Among Veterans

January 9, 2013

Recent media reports suggesting that the college dropout rate among many young veterans using civilian education benefits is about 88 percent has veterans advocates worried that such benefits could face cuts if their worth cannot be proven. According to the Stars and Stripes, although the Department of Veterans Administration officials and advocacy groups have repeatedly disputed this figure, because no official body actually tracks veteran graduation statistics, they have had no means to disprove it. That may soon change.

This week, the advocacy group Student Veterans of America announced a partnership with the Department of Veterans Affairs and the National Student Clearinghouse, a nonprofit educational research institution. Their goal: research veterans graduation figures to demonstrate the return on taxpayers' investments in programs such as the Post-9/11 GI Bill (which replaced the Montgomery GI Bill in 2008 for veterans who served after 9/11).

"I believe we are going to show just how successful student veterans are," Michael Dakduk, executive director of SVA, told Stars and Stripes. "Our preliminary research has already shown that they do as well as or better than students at large. But that's not the story you always hear."

Inside Higher Education reports that the NSC is well-suited to the job of collecting graduation data, as it already conducts verification and research services for its 3,300 member colleges, and describes its database as "near-census national coverage." Last week the Clearinghouse and the VA worked out an agreement on how to best collect the information they need.

Yet even if veteran graduation rates are better than those that are widely reported, NPR noted that these students still face challenges within the higher education system, such as difficulties in getting the advice and help they need to choose a program. According to the report, veterans also often do not understand how their benefits work -- assuming they know they have them at all.

"It took me more than a semester to figure out my GI Bill benefits," Ryan Galluci, deputy legislative director with the Veterans of Foreign Wars, told NPR. According to Galluci, a recent survey indicates that only 58 percent of veterans even knew they were eligible for college benefits.

NPR reports that another common obstacle for veterans pursuing higher education is a lack of coordination between various government agencies. For instance, federal resources such as the College Navigator do not always include data that could help veterans decide on a school that best suits them.

"The Department of Veteran's Affairs has this data. The Department of Education has the navigator. They don't talk to each other very well," Jennifer Steele, a researcher at RAND Corporation, told NPR. "They can do this better."

Some officials say they welcome the push for more information on veterans' completion rates, reports Inside Higher Education.

"Good data will help all of us develop programs that will better serve our military and veteran students," Sally Stroup, executive vice president of government relations and general counsel for the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities, said in a written statement received by Inside Higher Education.


Compiled by Aimee Hosler

Sources:

"Do Veterans Graduate?" insidehighered.com, January 8, 2013, Paul Fain

"How many student veterans graduate? No one knows," stripes.com, January 7, 2013, Leo Shane III

"Why Higher Education Is More Difficult For Veterans," npr.org, January 4, 2013, John O'Connor

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