Data on nearly 1 million veterans enrolled in postsecondary education from 2002 to 2010 was released this week, giving the public a window into how student veterans progress academically.
The good news: Our nation’s heroes graduate at levels comparable to their peers in higher education, which means our nation made the right investment by providing returning veterans with access to the funding they need to obtain career skills for their post-military life.
The initiative — which was dubbed the Million Records Project and was spearheaded by Student Veterans of America in partnership with the National Student Clearinghouse and the Department of Veterans Affairs — showed completion data, fields of study and demographic information on nearly 1 million veterans.
The completion rate for student veterans beginning their enrollment within the eight-year window, 2002-10, was over 51 percent. That number, a rate expected to rise over time, is far more settling than the public narrative previously being shaped. Not too long ago veteran advocates were combating the notion that veterans drop out in high numbers — even as high as 88 percent in their first year! Many veteran advocates never subscribed to such an extreme picture being presented. This study, while far more sobering, should be carefully analyzed and appreciated for what it is and what it is not.
The Million Records Project is a better snapshot of veterans primarily enrolled under the Montgomery GI Bill, a benefit that while not as generous as the Post-9/11 GI Bill, still helps hundreds of thousands of transitioning servicemembers begin their path toward higher education. The Montgomery GI Bill provides a monthly, flat-rate benefit, whereas the Post-9/11 GI Bill provides the highest in-state tuition rates for veterans, a housing allowance, an optional Yellow Ribbon Program for students attending private institutions to offset the difference in tuition and fees, and benefits for other education-related costs. The scope of this latest study does not fully capture the completion rates of Post-9/11 GI Bill veterans enrolled today.
Consider this reality for student veterans prior to the Post-9/11 GI Bill, a majority of which is captured in this study: In October 2002, the benefit for the Montgomery GI Bill (active duty) was valued at $900 per month for full-time college students. For those enrolled under the reserve version, the monthly amount was $276. During the 2002-03 academic year, the average cost of attendance at all postsecondary institutions was $14,298.
The Montgomery GI Bill is hardly a benefit comparable to the Post-9/11 GI Bill. We should be ecstatic about the completion rates displayed by veterans under the Montgomery GI Bill, a program that was in dire need of updating given the rising costs in higher education.
While the new data’s results are revealing, they should be analyzed with an appreciation for their limitations and the need for additional data. This report clearly states that it is premature to make any strong statements about the success of veterans enrolled under the new Post-9/11 GI Bill program. Since the Post-9/11 GI Bill was implemented recently — in 2009 — not enough time has passed for veterans to complete their postsecondary programs. Consequently, data are limited on this group of student veterans.
Most importantly, though, this report moves the dialogue regarding student veterans’ success in a positive direction. Veteran advocates have long argued that veterans enrolled in postsecondary programs graduate at rates similar to, or above, their peers. We must continue to create and foster a pathway for student veterans to achieve educational success.
PSCUs open doors to many of the 13 million unemployed and 90 million undereducated Americans by providing a skills-based education. To remain competitive over the next decade, we must identify between 8 and 23 million new workers with postsecondary skills. PSCUs are a necessary part of that solution, having produced over 800,000 degrees last year alone.