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How Supporting Student Veterans Benefits Your Institution

Student veterans make up approximately six percent of undergraduate college students and seven percent of graduate students (US Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics). While generally referred to as student veterans, this overarching title includes active-duty service members and those in the National Guard or Reserves.

Precise information on the military-connected student population, or even those using VA education benefits, is limited because the data doesn’t distinguish between undergraduate and graduate students or veterans and their dependents. However, a few conclusions are evident when combining the data with data from individual schools.

What Makes Student Veterans Different?

Student veterans are an incredibly diverse population and decidedly different from traditional college students.

Student veterans are more likely to be:

  • Older – 85% are over the age of 25
  • Partnered – About 50% are married
  • Parents – About 50% are raising kids
  • First Gen – 62% are first-generation college students
  • Full Time – Only 25% attend part-time
  • Men – Only 27% are women
  • Diverse – 40% identify as non-white

Post-9/11 veterans are 1.4 times more likely to complete their program than all adult learners. In addition to their higher completion rates, they tend to have a higher average GPA of 3.34, compared to traditional students at 2.94. Student veterans have the potential to be incredibly successful, particularly at high-graduation-rate institutions, as a report from the National Veteran Education Tracker (NVEST) Project reported.

Student Veterans Are Still a Largely Untapped Audience

In 2021, the Department of Veterans Affairs estimated that there were 5.1 million Post-9/11 Veterans, only 32% of which had a bachelor’s degree or higher. The VA also reported that in 2020, only 40% of eligible veterans were using their educational benefits.[1]

This leaves millions of veterans eligible for educational benefits and in need of additional postsecondary education.

Institutions have many opportunities to market to and recruit veterans who are a good fit for their programs.

Where are Veterans Enrolling?

Veterans are overrepresented in for-profit and two-year institutions and underrepresented in public, four-year institutions. While data on student veteran selection criteria is limited, likely, these types of institutions are simply more effective in targeting this population.

About half of those using VA education benefits enroll in undergraduate programs. Another quarter enroll in two-year schools, 9% in graduate programs and 15% in vocational, technical or non-degree programs.

The programs where you’re most likely to see student veterans enrolling are business (27%), STEM (14%) or health professions (10%).

What Student Veterans Are Looking For?

Veterans enroll in colleges and other higher education institutions for many of the same reasons non-veterans do. They want to develop new skills, increase career options and improve their quality of life. They may also be interested in learning how to apply some of the skills learned in the military to a civilian career.

Because student veterans are typically older and more likely to be raising a family or working (or both) during their college experience, they often find programs that offer multiple modalities attractive. Flexibility about full-time and part-time; online, in person or hybrid programs; and continuous enrollment options are all important to student veterans.

About 15% of student veterans attend multiple schools and are interested in transferring credits when looking at prospective institutions.

Student veterans also seek support when looking at a new college or program. They want to know who to talk to about their educational benefits, who can help them make decisions about their program timeline, who can help navigate the enrollment process and how to get involved with veteran support groups.

What’s Standing in Their Way?

There are quite a few challenges these students face that non-military students don’t, including the bureaucratic difficulties related to using their educational benefits. The Post-9/11 GI Bill®️ and other funding through the Department of Veterans Affairs can be difficult for students to understand.

Paying for school isn’t the only thing weighing on the minds of these students. They also find these things challenging:

  • Adapting to life after the military
  • Dealing with the lack of structure that the military provided
  • Connecting with their peers
  • Balancing work, family and education

Students often note a lack of peer support as their most significant challenge – something many veterans and military families encounter. Referred to as the military/civilian divide, this disconnect occurs when people don’t have direct contact with the military.

Only about one-third of adults between 18 and 29 have an immediate family member who served in the military, while in their parent’s generation, 79% have that intimate connection. Not having a connection to the military increases confusion and misunderstandings.

Military-connected students may also face aggressive targeting from academic institutions that aren’t particularly concerned about supporting them holistically. Most of all, these students want to feel understood and supported in their academic decisions.

How to Support Military-Connected Students

One of the ways to become more familiar with military-connected students is by collaborating with higher education institutions, foundations and other organizations committed to the success of military-connected students.

Here are some of the top recommendations from Veteran-forward organizations.

Respect veterans’ unique transition needs

  • Facilitation of financial support is only a baseline standard.
  • Understand and address short-term needs like transition and onboarding hurdles while keeping their long-term potential in mind.

Veteran programs tailored to better inclusion, not isolation

  • Students often note a lack of peer support as their most significant challenge – something many veterans and military families encounter. Referred to as the military/civilian divide, this disconnect occurs when people don’t have direct contact with the military. Move veterans services beyond ‘crisis support’ to positive inclusion.

Speak to shared experiences

  • Create veterans-focused groups, with peers in the lead, and host veterans-focused events that integrate the full campus community.

Embrace the wider veterans community

  • Support and collaborate with campus-focused veteran organizations along the full spectrum of the transition journey.

Military-connected students believe their military experience directly aids them in pursuing a college degree. They are resilient despite difficult events or stressful environments. Establishing specific counseling and mental health programs can help them continue to succeed.

How VVC Can Help

Virtual Veterans Community (VVC) is a mission-driven organization dedicated to improving higher education and employment outcomes for military-connected students. We exist for one reason, to support institutions serving the students who serve our country. Whether you need a proven approach to on-base marketing, a turnkey online community, one-on-one coaching for military-connected students or team development, VVC stands ready.


[1]Baird, Matthew, Michael S. Kofoed, Trey Miller, and Jennie Wenger, Educators of Veterans or For-Profiteers? Tuition Responses to Changes in the Post 9/11 GI Bill, working paper, IZA, September 2020.

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