In 1944, Congress created the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, also known as the GI Bill, to ensure those returning from serving in World War II were able to gain the skills and training necessary to successfully transition from military service into the civilian workforce. With the passage of this landmark legislation, not only were those who served our country afforded the opportunity to further their education and training, but the trajectory of higher education was also forever changed. For the first time in history, higher education was made accessible to the working class. It proved a tremendous success¹, and is widely credited by economists as a central factor in creating America’s large middle class that drove economic buying and growth for decades.
Over the last 75 years, higher education has continued to shift and change as it has worked to meet the demands of the ever-evolving student population, a large percentage made up of military-connected students taking advantage of their hard-earned education benefits, many of whom, like the post-War generation, come to college from low-income, first generation families. Over the next 22 years, higher education will continue to be challenged by advances in technology, changes in the demands of the workforce, and a growing number of adults returning to school. These challenges necessitate that higher education address the following areas that directly impact military-connected students.
Improve quality in online learning
Like many of “today’s students,” many military-connected students are unable to attend school at brick and mortar institutions. Some are deployed overseas, some are getting ready to transfer to their next duty station, others are working full-time, or have disabilities that prevent them from being able to sit in a classroom. Many student veterans we serve who find themselves at a low-quality (and sometimes predatory) school explain that the ease of access via online programs was a key draw.
Studies show that education in a brick-and-mortar classroom, results in significantly better student outcomes. But online education could be more effective than it is today. It is of utmost importance that quality is not sacrificed in the name of innovation.
“It is equally important that institutions of higher learning continue to find innovative ways to reach otherwise underserved student populations while maintaining the level of quality offered in a classroom”
Improve student outcomes
Ensuring student success is a key goal for all of higher education, and especially so for military-connected students. By analogy, a key finding about the national assessment of the WWII GI Bill, was that it significantly reduced the rates of veteran poverty and dependence on public assistance². Improved student outcomes are possible, as recent research efforts have demonstrated, especially the intrusive mentoring and holistic support at the City University of New York Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP)³ and the use of predictive analytics and intervention at Georgia State University4. Data analytics are more robust and accessible than ever before, and the future of higher education necessitates a more widespread embrace of proven methods of improving student outcomes.
Improve standards and stop fraud
In the coming years, higher education must succeed in improving accreditation standards, such that Americans can know that a government stamp of approval on a college does indeed mean that the college will deliver a quality education and leave them better off. Higher education, collectively, must embrace the mission of weeding out diploma mills and low-quality schools that offer worthless credits for high debt.
Similarly, it is imperative that higher education help finally put a clear and decisive stop to the deceptive and aggressive recruiting and marketing that characterizes the colleges that currently take the most GI Bill and other military education benefits.5 Twenty-two years from now, Americans should be able to enjoy a higher education landscape free of fraud and subpar education.
Remove the stigma of military-connected students
Within the higher education community, those who support military-connected students express challenges in helping their fellow faculty, staff, and administrators see past the stereotypes associated with military-connected students. Those stereotypes include seeing veterans as, on the one hand, broken, angry, or not college material, or, on the other hand, as superheroes capable of no wrongdoing who should be put on pedestals. These stereotypes hurt, rather than help, military-connected students.
Like all others, those who have served are complex humans, each with their challenges and each with their strengths. That reality is likely to become increasingly apparent in coming years as a new generation of Americans return from war to school. 22 years from now, we anticipate that higher education professionals will see beyond just a student’s military career and instead see the student as a unique and complex individual.
Enhanced holistic support
Today’s students face a number of challenges outside the academic environment that can impede their ability to be successful in the classroom, including food insecurities, homelessness, caring for dependents, health issues, and challenges with transportation. Colleges and universities are doing much to address these issues through increasing access to food pantries, addressing college affordability, creating rideshares and transportation support, and improving access to mental healthcare on campus are all great steps. Yet, the burden should not fall solely on the colleges and 22 years from now, we are likely to see more partnerships with outside entities that can help fill the gaps.
Finally, twenty-two years from now, there will be more military-connected students taking advantage of their hard-earned benefits. Instead of avoiding higher education because they might not have done well in high school and consequently do not see themselves as “college material”, they will see the thousands of peers who have gone before them and will be empowered to follow in their footsteps.
1 The President’s Commission on Veterans’ Pensions, Veterans Benefits in the United States (April 1954), Omar Bradley, Chairman (known popularly as the “Bradley Commission”), available at http://www.cnas.org/sites/default/files/ Bradley_Commission_Report1956.pdf
2 Bradley Commission, page 251.
3 See, e.g., Inside Higher Ed, “Strong Gains from CUNY ASAP’s Model in Ohio” (Dec. 12, 2018), available at https://www.insidehighered.com/ quicktakes/2018/12/12/strong-gainscunys-asap-model-ohio; see generally MDRC, “Evaluation of Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) for Developmental Education Students” available at https://www.mdrc.org/project/ evaluation-accelerated-study-associate-programs-asap-developmental-education-students#overview
4 See, e.g., Inside Higher Ed, “Georgia State’s Extensive Predictive Analytics Efforts are Leading to Better Grades and Student Retention — and More Minorities Graduating from STEM Programs” (July 19, 2017), available at https://www. insidehighered.com/digital-learning/ article/2017/07/19/georgia-state-improves-student-outcomes-data.
5 See Veterans Education Success, “Schools Receiving the Most Post-9/11 GI Bill Tuition and Fee Payments Since 2009” (2018), available at https://vetsedsuccess.org/research-and-reports/ves/ schools-receiving-the-most-post-9-11-gibill-tuition-and-fee-payments-since-2009/
Tanya Ang is the Vice President of Veterans Education Success. Tanya came to Veterans Education Success as the Policy and Outreach Director in the Fall of 2017, bringing more than 17 years of experience in higher education, most recently as Project Director at Service-members Opportunity Colleges at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities and Director of Veterans Programs at the American Council on Education. She also has served as a member of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Veterans Advisory Committee on Education. Tanya has also served as a higher education consultant to veteran service organizations, federal agencies, and congressional representatives on issues related to the derecognition of ACICS, supporting military-connected students impacted by the closure of ITT, and the passage of the recent Forever GI Bill. Her experience in academia includes working as an Administrative Analyst for the Vice President of Student Affairs Office at California State University – Fullerton and as Associate Registrar at Vanguard University.