Transition into Higher Education: The Challenges Student Veterans Encounter
College life is a new and experiencing chapter for first time college students; this is true when describing the typical eighteen-year-old who just graduated from high school, their first time being on their own, away from their parents and finally, becoming an adult. Nancy Schlossberg (Schlossberg, 2011), a theorist who developed the Transition Theory suggested transition can be a occurrence that has a significant effect to one’s relationship, daily routine, role and or thinking.
Currently across campus grounds student bodies are made up of traditional and non-traditional students. Example of a characteristic of a traditional student can be consider a enrollee into college right after graduating from high school versus a non-traditional student who possesses distinctive characteristics such as being a part-time student, and or a single parent, or enrolling for the first time after a traditional student age. According to the definition of transition theory (Schlossberg, 2011), veterans who are considered non-traditional student, transitioning from military life back into civilian life have a great deal of coping and adjustment in which the support or guidance on how to “adjust” may not be available to the veteran.
If there is a lack of a support or services for the veterans during their time on campus; we ask, can that be the cause of a low success for graduation rates for veterans? During this research process the determination if a veteran’s mental status, financial standing and social behavior are factors that could potentially hinder their success in college will be explored. The author has seen, heard and experienced various challenges veterans have encountered after being discharged from service. This research paper will be able to deliver, in a compare and contrast technique to convey various occurrences which veterans have or may encounter and overcome to succeed during their time in college. Though support services offered on and off campus, the focus would be in examining if there is more a veteran can do prior to transitioning back into civilian life? What factors can collaborate for a successful academic path leading into graduation?
Comparison among student veterans and conventional students
In the past, few veterans joined colleges predominantly through state sponsored programs (Falkey, 2016). Thus, only a select few pursued higher post-secondary education. However, things have changed in the recent past, as majority of veterans who join colleges nowadays have a full sponsorship package from the state creating an increasing number of students with military back ground. The number of veterans in institutions of higher learning is increasing every day. For instance, in the year 2015 alone, the first-time joiners surpassed 200,000 people and this is expected to grow even higher in the years ahead (Jenner, 2017). The presence of students with post military association studying together with traditional students leaves academic administrators with no choice in understanding the needs of both sets of students to serve them better.
The differences between the two sets are as diverse as the students themselves. First, they differ in their mode of entry to the institution of higher learning. Student veterans refer to those who transition from military to civilian colleges in pursuit of post-secondary school education (Falkey, 2016). Usually, these groups of students join college after some period of time of high school completion. During the transition period, such students are absorbed in the military, trained and deployed to serve in various missions within and beyond the borders of the United States. On the other hand, traditional college students transition from high school to college almost immediately, and are civilians with no military experience. Therefore, prolonged break from the academic environment, in order to serve in the military poses some challenges to the veterans returning to class, as they need to readjust and re-learn some of the skills they might have forgotten during this period. In addition, curriculum requirements may also have changed over time necessitating them to update some academic skills before enrolling for higher education.
Another difference is vividly on the demographics. Veteran students are adult learners even though some of them are only a few years older, like two or three years, than the traditional students. These students form the minority group in the campus. The statistics indicate that this group was about 3% of the total campus population in the year 2011 (Jenner, 2017). On the other hand, traditional students constitute the bulk of student population at institutions for higher learning making them a dominant group. In addition, many of the military personnel transiting into civilian life are men. This is occasioned by the fact that military is masculine oriented and employs more men to serve in its various missions. Colleges and Universities report admitting fewer female veterans on campus than men. The ratio of male to female is well balanced for traditional students as both genders have an equal opportunity of transiting from secondary education (Arminio, Grabosky, & Lang, 2015).
The level of representation in campus matters also presents a frontier in which the two categories of students differ. Thus, being a minority leaves veterans under-represented in many issues such as welfare and campus politics which are core in shaping the policies governing learning in these institutions. Due to this issue, veteran students across institutions of higher learning have been grouping in order to form similar campus unions to traditional students that champion their rights and needs as students with many faces (US Department of Veteran Affairs, 2012). Due to the need to have proper representation in order to drive the push for friendly environment for the veterans, the Student Veterans of America focusses on building and sustaining strong campus chapters for its members.
Veteran students bring with them a lot of life experience into the classroom when compared to the traditional college student. Thus, they bring on board maturity and good understanding of global challenges to the learning experience through their military service. Traditional students lack real life experience with the global issues and only depend on available literature to make a meaningful contribution to the learning environment. As such, campuses can tap into the universe of practical knowledge available with these veterans and develop world class training programs for both the experienced and inexperienced types of students.
Attrition is another issue that brings the difference between traditional and student veterans. Like any other non-traditional students, research has shown that student veterans are more likely to drop out of school before the end of their first year in college (Falkey, 2016). Statistics of graduating students across the United States show that a higher percentage of traditional students graduate when compared to those from military. This is because this group is easily affected by external factors such as family responsibilities, as majority typically holds a family role that creates conflict with student role when it comes to prioritizing on which one should take precedence.
Transitioning from military life to student life is another aspect where the two exhibit differences (Boettcher, Marten, Salmon, Smith, & Taylor, 2017). These authors point out that transitioning to higher education is challenging to any student, but more complex to student veterans owing to their previous roles in the society. To begin with, veteran students have to make a meaning of their multiple and competing identities such as students, partners, parents, and employees among others. In addition to these identities, veteran students have to transition to campus culture which is away far different from the military culture. In any institution of higher learning, creativity, individualism and independence form the pillars of the campus culture, while in the military, one is required to adhere and conform to predetermined rules that shape the behavior of personnel. Thus, transitioning from an environment that is highly structured to one that is less requires the veterans to embrace the campus culture more rapidly in order to adapt to their study environment.
Re-integration of student veterans into the college structure places them at a disadvantage when compared to the traditional students. This may involve relocation, loss of social support system, different or no healthcare support services, reintegration into a civilian lifestyle and possibly taking on a new job or a different career path. Whether in college or not, veterans are treated like soldiers even if they ceased to be, pushing away would be peers who play an important role for their reintegration. As such, a vacuum in the social support system comes up to put barriers between the veterans and the traditional students that they share classes with, leaving them lonely and feeling out of place. Contrary to this, traditional students do not need any form of integration as they are already civilians. More often than not, they have friends and peers whom they move along with from high school. Thus, they have a favorable campus environment than their veteran counterparts.
Even though both sets of students gain entry through different modes, they are similar in some respects. In the first instance, those pursuing similar courses take identical core units. Thus, they go through the same training program and sit for the same examination regardless of their type in order to acquire the skills relevant for their future careers. It is important to note that majority of the veterans engage in gainful employment or business activities but they still acquire the same set of knowledge as the inexperienced traditional students who pursue their studies for their future aspirations. Therefore, both the traditional student and the veteran student have to depend on their cognitive abilities to succeed in the academic environment.
Secondly, like traditional students, a number of veteran students also face barriers to higher education such as financial issues, remediation and balancing education with other aspects of life. Existing researches cite financial issues as having the biggest impact on the veteran students’ abilities to persist in higher education (Jenner, 2017). Even though the veterans are known to have had gainful employment and some might even have received financial payments at their exit from service, the cost of education appears to be too high without government assistance. As such, like any other under-privileged student with meagre finances, the student veterans find it difficult to continue with their academic programs if they don’t receive financial support on top of the amount they can afford to pay comfortably. A few decades ago, veteran students had very few incentives for pursuing higher education when compared to traditional students. However, post the September 11 attack, a bill was passed to enhance the incentives that would see them get advanced financial support in terms of payment of tuition fees and purchase of books. Despite the state funded programs for the veterans, some of them chose employment over higher education as the cost for supporting their families was still their responsibility.
To sum up, the traditional students and their veteran counterparts have similarities in the sense that they both undertake similar programs whose outcome is dependent on their cognitive abilities. They also both benefit from the state through funding of their tuition fees as an incentive for them to complete their studies without any financial difficulty. They are different in that the veterans may need to be reintegrated back into civilian lifestyle, they may also need to refresh on some skills required before being enrolled to some programs. Similarly, the veterans join college after service and bring with them live experience required to better the learning experience.
Student veterans’ institutional experiences
Attaining the highest level of academic achievement informs decisions of many professionals including veterans to pursue higher education. Throughout a person’s academic journey, attaining a degree seems to be the epitome of an excellent career for both the veterans and the traditional students. However, the process of attaining it poses unprecedented levels of challenges differently to people depending on their professional background.
In any institution of higher learning, there are people with different backgrounds seeking to further their skills. One such group consists of serving or non-serving members of the military either seeking to acquire new academic skills required for their career growth or change their careers in entirety. There is also another group coming fresh from secondary school looking for opportunities to fulfil their academic ambitions. Ideally, veterans should perform as good as the rest of the campus population or even better because the academic achievements highly depend on an individual’s cognitive abilities rather than their past background. This is because they are offered the same services and a similar academic environment with the rest of the campus population. However, there is a pool of data that seem to provide evidence that student veterans experience less academic success than other students. One of the areas this is vividly evidence is on the completion rate. A study dubbed Million Records project conducted on 898,895 veterans enrolled in higher education found that, although veteran students earned post-secondary degrees including vocational to doctorate levels, it takes them longer than the other students to attain them (Brian, et al., 2017). Why do we have this disparity? One can only guess from the challenges that many of them experience ranging from inability to cope with campus life due to conflicting cultures with the military, stress related causes, and issues beyond the academic setting like the need to connect with their loved ones after a long period of separation.
Generally, the veterans obtain financial support in the form of tuition fees, aid to buy books and cash catering for accommodation costs following the enactment of the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Thus, the aid eliminates the financial burden that often takes the blame for erratic attendance of school programs. The traditional students also have direct financial aid from the State, where funds are given to them to assist them meet their campus expenses or pay for tuition fees by themselves. On top of this, majority join campus while still under the custody of their parents who also contribute towards their tuition and accommodation fees. For the veterans, funds are directly paid to the universities and colleges and often rely on themselves or their partners to assist meet the extra financial requirements. In addition, the assistance that veterans receive from the State only lasts for a four-year program, and this means that they must find some other sources of funding to pursue any program that lasts beyond the four years. It is due to this reason that there is a disparity in the completion rates between veterans and other students for the programs extend beyond for year funding requirement.
Traditional students can transfer their grades easily from one school to another as there are several colleges offering the same program. This is different for veterans as their training is facilitated within a training camp. Thus, veterans often must fight with the colleges to have their military training and experience converted into academic credits. Their experience and certain common course and general management skills that veterans have acquired through their military training that can earn them exemptions like other students transferred from one institution to another. This means that veterans who do not transfer their credits from their military training must undergo a longer route than their regular counterparts enrolling from other forms of training. In response to this issue, the Veterans Association campus charters and their wide association have assisted veterans seeking to transfer credits from previous training and military experience to related programs on campus.
Veterans and other students have different experiences on campus. It is notable that veterans who have suffered trauma at one time in their line of duty have trouble adjusting to campus life and often show signs of trouble getting sleep and concentrating in class. Similarly, others have physical disabilities occasioned by war and terminal illness emanating from the cramped military camps. Traditional students have less of these effects, and thus able to be fully alert during class sessions. According to research conducted in Arkansas and California Universities, the veteran students have a higher risk of dropping out of academic programs at the slighted encounter with difficulties (Marcus, 2017). Therefore, veteran students require more support to overcome their previous experience with the military that hinder them from optimizing their academic environment.
Transition into Higher Education: The Challenges Student Veterans Encounter