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Submission For The Record of Student Veterans of America

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

November 4, 2013

 

As the largest and only national association of military veterans in higher education, Student Veterans of America’s (SVA) mission is to provide military veterans with the resources, support, and advocacy needed to succeed in higher education and after graduation.  SVA has been a strong proponent of tracking student veteran outcomes to define the success of veterans in higher education and to dispel, or substantiate, notions of low veteran graduation rates. SVA was also a key contributor, along with The American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, in the effort to provide veterans and servicemembers with greater consumer protections and consumer education tools, as evidenced by our role in the establishment of the Principles of Excellence and the passage of the Improving Transparency of Educational Opportunities for Veterans Act of 2012.

To further support student veterans, SVA has partnered with the Department of Veterans Affairs and The National Student Clearinghouse, a nonprofit organization with enrollment data on over 95% of America’s student population[1], to create and develop the Million Records Project. The initiative will track the academic outcomes, including graduation rates, for 1 million student veterans enrolled between 2002 and 2010. The database will address some of the weaknesses in current Federal databases and surveys to produce a more accurate estimate of student veteran postsecondary completion rates, thus fulfilling a key provision of Executive Order 13607. SVA expects to publish an initial report on the completion rate of approximately 1 million veterans that have used various forms of the GI Bill between 2002 and 2010 in the first quarter of 2014. 

Accurately measuring the academic outcomes of student veterans will benefit countless stakeholders. Policymakers will have sound data upon which to base legislative decisions that directly impact thousands of GI Bill beneficiaries and servicemembers. Accurate data will also be instrumental in evaluating Federal, state, and institutional level policies, practices, and services established to support student veterans. Effective programs can be brought to scale and others can be minimized. The end result will be greater support for student veterans.

The Million Records Project is a vital first step to accurately identifying, tracking, and measuring student veteran postsecondary completion rates.  It will provide a benchmark of student veterans’ postsecondary success.  The project will be a stepping-stone to identify areas where student veterans may need more support and it will likely lead to future research regarding student veteran persistence, key loss points (moments in time where a high percentage of students dropout), and effective programs and policies. Data is critical to empowering colleges and universities to better support their student veteran population through to graduation.



 

WRITTEN TESTIMONY

Thank you for inviting comments on this field hearing discussing the transparency of student veteran outcomes and ways the higher education community can better support student veterans. We are particularly grateful for this opportunity to provide the subcommittee with new developments on tracking student veteran outcomes to better define student veteran success.

Student Veterans of America (SVA) is the largest and only national association of military veterans in higher education. Our mission is to provide military veterans with the resources, support, and advocacy needed to succeed in higher education and after graduation. We currently have over 900 chapters, or student veteran organizations, at colleges and universities in all 50 states that assist veterans in their transition to and through higher education. SVA chapters are organized at four-year and two-year public, private, nonprofit, and for-profit institutions of higher learning. These chapters provide SVA with a distinct perspective on veterans earning post-secondary credentials. 

Since SVA’s founding in 2008, we have been involved in the efforts to accurately track student veteran outcomes and to assist the higher education community in supporting student veterans on campus.  In January of last year, SVA was a key contributor and signatory of a coalition letter, authored by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, calling for executive and congressional action to inform and protect veterans in higher education[2]. The letter culminated in the issuance of Executive Order 13607 and the passage of H.R. 4057, a bill introduced by Rep. Gus Bilirakis and now Public Law 112-247.

A key component of the Principles of Excellence (Executive Order 13607) is the call to track student veteran academic success rates.  According to Section 3c, the Secretaries of Defense, Veterans Affairs, and Education are to track student outcomes, to the extent practicable, utilizing existing administration data.[3]  The tracking of student veteran outcomes is critical to identifying the academic success of veterans and the policies, programs, and services that lead to higher student veteran success rates. This information will allow Congress and the higher education community to better allocate resources to programs and services of value.

However, current executive and congressional action does not go far enough. Given that data on veteran and servicemember outcomes has rarely been tracked, we remain concerned that existing Federal data remains flawed, or minimal, at best. The greatest challenge when trying to track student veteran outcomes is accurately identifying veterans. National level data on student veterans has been difficult to find, analyze, and interpret due to poor collection methods, narrow inclusion criteria, and mistakes in correctly identifying student veterans.  Most Federally maintained databases on postsecondary student outcomes exclude a portion of the student veteran population while including other military populations, which decreases accuracy. In addition, Federally maintained databases that accurately identify student veterans have not collected data on or shared information with other databases that collect information on student outcomes, until recently though Executive Order 13607.

These flaws contribute to confusing results and misleading perceptions of student veteran postsecondary success. For example, The 2010 National Survey of Veterans reports a student veteran postsecondary completion rate of 68%[4]; the American Community Survey reports 56% of veterans have completed at least some college or higher;[5] the National Center for Educational Statistics reports the six-year completion rate for student veterans starting in 2003 was 36% with a margin of error of 11.5%[6]. It is evident that the current systems for tracking student veteran postsecondary academic outcomes are inefficient and inadequate. It fosters confusion and is riddled with contradictions, all of which masks the value of the GI Bill investment.

The lack of empirical data on the drivers of student veteran success creates barriers for institutions of higher learning. Many are facing budget reductions and increased demand for services. Without accurate data, schools may be investing scarce resources on ineffective programs.

To counter these challenges, SVA believes that a new database or system should be established to accurately measure and track student veteran academic outcomes.  The new database must first be able to accurately identify current student veterans, excluding veteran dependents and Active Duty service members enrolled in post-secondary programs.  Second, it would need to be able to track student veterans’ enrollment at the individual level, so that student veterans are not excluded due to transferring schools or taking a break from college.

These criteria are the foundation of SVA’s Million Records Projects, also known as the Student Veteran Attainment Database. The system was created by SVA in partnership with the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC). It will, for the first time in history, accurately track and measure student veteran academic outcomes.  

The Student Veteran Attainment Database utilizes the veteran education beneficiary information from the Department of Veterans Affairs to identify student veterans. The NSC collects individual student enrollment data from institutions of higher education and provides accurate enrollment and completion data for individual students, even if a student transfers schools or stops-out. By cross referencing the data of the VA with the data of the NSC, the Student Veteran Attainment database will show the true student veteran completion rate for 1 million student veterans enrolled between 2002 and 2010. Not only will this data provide policymakers with greater insight regarding the value of the GI Bill, but it will empower service providers and institutions of higher learning to invest in data-driven programs, policies, and services that lead to improved student veteran academic outcomes.

A number of resources, based on the little research regarding student veteran outcomes that does exist, have already been created to catalogue some of these leading practices. The American Council of Education, for example, created the Veteran Friendly Toolkit to crowd-sources policies, programs, and services from their member institutions. Victory Media, who operates the GI Jobs Military Friendly School List, uses a different scoring rubric to measure and assign schools a “Military Friendly” designation.

In addition to ACE’s Toolkit and the GI Jobs list, a wealth of anecdotal evidence on institutional practices supporting student veterans does exist, some of which the committee heard today from Riverside City College’s SVA Chapter. Their on-the-ground perspective is extremely valuable to stakeholders and policymakers. They represent the peer-to-peer support structure that eases the transition from the military to college life for student veterans.

Another significant component of success for student veterans is the dedication of on-campus space in the form of a student veteran resource center or lounge. It allows student veterans to meet one another, provide academic support, socialize with peers, or meet with veteran-supportive staff like certifying officers, academic advisors, and counselors. Some institutions have adopted formal student veteran mentorship programs to pair senior student veterans or alumni with newly enrolled student veterans. These are just a few examples of how institutions can foster a sense of community and support for student veterans.

Anecdotal evidence also shows that removing or easing administrative barriers increases a veteran’s success on campus. Priority registration, for example, ensures that student veterans can enroll in classes that meet requirements for utilizing their VA education benefits. Exemption from in-state residency conditions allows student veterans to begin their studies sooner without needing to meet residency guidelines or potentially having to pay extra tuition costs as an out-of-state college student. Policies and programs that support student veterans when VA benefits are delayed also ensure that student veterans can continue their studies uninterrupted.

Finally, student veterans have reported that when institutions invest in understanding their needs, the school is better equipped to provide support. An annual survey to understand utilization of on-campus services and collect feedback is a simple way to collect data. It can also be in the form of a resource team or veteran task force that listens to student veterans and includes them in the process of finding resources and solutions. Some institutions have held veteran panels to inform the entire campus community about the experiences of student veterans.

In conclusion, establishing an accurate database to identify student veterans and track their academic outcomes is the first vital step in providing more effective, robust support for student veterans. It is hardly the last. SVA’s Student Veteran Attainment Database will test an accurate method to capture student veteran degree attainment and completion rates. The next phase of the research will be to use the data to better understand the drivers of student veteran persistence and graduation. Accurate data will empower policymakers, institutions of higher learning, student veterans and service providers to invest limited resources into effective programs that will lead to a full realization of the potential of the GI Bill investment.

Thank you Chairman Flores, Ranking Member Takano, and distinguished members of the subcommittee for allowing Student Veterans of America to submit our views on legislation focused on supporting veterans, military servicemembers, and their families.

 

 

References

Barack Obama. "Establishing Principles of Excellence for Educational Institutions Serving Service Members, Veterans, Spouses, and Other Family Members," Executive Order 13607, 27 April 2012, http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2012-05-02/pdf/2012-10715.pdf

National Student Clearing House. “Clearinghouse Facts,” Accessed June 14, 2013.  http://www.studentclearinghouse.org/about/clearinghouse_facts.php

U.S. Census Bureau. “Table B21003:  Veteran status by educational attainment for the civilian population 25 years and over. 2007–2011 American community survey 5-year estimate,” Accessed June 13, 2013. http://factfinder2.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?pid=ACS_11_5YR_B21003&prodType=table

U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, “Six-year attainment rate at any institution among all first-time beginning students,” 2003-04 Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Study, Second Follow-up, April, 2009.  Accessed June 13, 2013.  http://nces.ed.gov/surveys/npsas/xls/F09_VETERAN_PROUT6B.xlsx

VFW Hill Blog. “VFW Builds Coalition to Support Student-Veteran Success,” February 12, 2012.  http://thevfw.blogspot.com/2012/02/vfw-builds-coalition-to-support-student.html.

Westat. National Survey of Veterans, Active Duty Service Members, Demobilized National Guard and Reserve Members, Family Members, and Surviving Spouses. Final Report, Rockville, MD: Westat, 2010. Retrieved from http://http://www.va.gov/vetdata/docs/SurveysAndStudies/NVSSurveyFinalWeightedReport.pdf.



[1] National Student Clearing House. “Clearinghouse Facts,” Accessed June 14, 2013.  http://www.studentclearinghouse.org/about/clearinghouse_facts.php

[2] VFW Hill Blog. “VFW Builds Coalition to Support Student-Veteran Success,” February 12, 2012.  http://thevfw.blogspot.com/2012/02/vfw-builds-coalition-to-support-student.html.

[3] Barack Obama. "Establishing Principles of Excellence for Educational Institutions Serving Service Members, Veterans, Spouses, and Other Family Members," Executive Order 13607, 27 April 2012, http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2012-05-02/pdf/2012-10715.pdf

[4] Westat. National Survey of Veterans, Active Duty Service Members, Demobilized National Guard and Reserve Members, Family Members, and Surviving Spouses. Final Report, Rockville, MD: Westat, 2010. Retrieved from http://http://www.va.gov/vetdata/docs/SurveysAndStudies/NVSSurveyFinalWeightedReport.pdf.

[5] U.S. Census Bureau. “Table B21003:  Veteran status by educational attainment for the civilian population 25 years and over. 2007–2011 American community survey 5-year estimate,” Accessed June 13, 2013. http://factfinder2.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?pid=ACS_11_5YR_B21003&prodType=table

[6] U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, “Six-year attainment rate at any institution among all first-time beginning students,” 2003-04 Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Study, Second Follow-up, April, 2009.  Accessed June 13, 2013.  http://nces.ed.gov/surveys/npsas/xls/F09_VETERAN_PROUT6B.xlsx