Four myths about student veterans

Some hard facts about one of the most successful groups in higher ed

Four myths about student veterans

Student veterans from more than 100 SVA chapters attend a Leadership Institute Workshop at Raytheon in Dallas, Texas.

There are a lot of myths about how student veterans are faring today, and some are not good. Just ask Jared Lyon, president and CEO of the Student Veterans of America.

The myths begin with “long-held misconceptions about veterans that date back to the Vietnam War,” he said. 

Another challenge: Military life is sometimes poorly understood by many Americans, including college administrators, members of Congress and the taxpayers who fund the GI Bill. 

“Military folks have to move around,” he pointed out. “We start at one place and don’t graduate from there. It affects the reported graduation rate [statistics], which doesn’t represent how well we do in school.”

As part of its mission to support those who serve, those who have served, and their families, Raytheon has made a multi-year commitment to SVA, providing resources, support and advocacy. SVA's 1,463 chapters, run by and for student veterans in all 50 states and four countries, is the world's largest network of student veteran groups, and the largest student-centric chapter based organization in higher education. Raytheon's investment and partnership helps SVA add 10 to 15 new chapters every month.

Myth #1: Student veterans don’t perform well in school.

“That’s a pretty widely held belief,” Lyon said (that Vietnam-era stereotype again). In fact, he said, the stats bust that myth wide open.

Student veterans succeed at a higher rate than those who have never served; 72 percent graduation, as compared to 66 percent for non-veterans, according to the National Veteran Education Success Tracker, or NVEST, a research partnership between SVA, the U.S. department of Veterans Affairs and the National Student Clearinghouse. Women, African-American, and Latino/a veterans, attain degrees at rates 3 percent to 18 percent higher, at every level of education, too.

“Looking at GPA, it’s a 3.35 as compared to 2.94. That’s a really significant issue,” he said, reeling off the stats: Twenty-seven percent are pursuing business degrees, 14 percent are working on degrees in science, technology, engineering or math – the subjects known collectively as STEM, and another 10 percent in health professions.

“The perceptions are wrong because we have perceptions based on headlines,” Lyon said.

Myth #2: Student veterans are traumatized or have family issues that mar their performance.

Student veterans certainly have families. Over half are married and 47 percent have children. 

“There’s no question it impacts how they go to school, but not their performance,” said Lyon, a veteran himself. “We’re responsible and persistent to goals and resistant to concerns that might sidetrack other folks.”

Some of this particular myth may be based on public perceptions regarding post-traumatic stress. “The reality is, incoming freshmen have a higher rate of diagnosable mental health conditions than veterans do,” Lyon said. Veterans “have the coping skills to bounce back” from trauma. Resilience is a key strength.

Myth #3: Student veterans won’t follow through to complete their degrees.

The student veteran degree completion rate in six years is 53.6 percent, versus 39.2 percent for the comparable population: non-traditional, civilian students. That belies the myth. In fact, veterans are more likely to complete a mission or task, thanks to the training and experience they received in the service. 

“The military prepares America’s young women and men who choose to serve to be mission-oriented,” Lyon said. “In the post-9/11 era, many of us have deployed to dangerous parts of the globe, where the completion of the mission can mean the difference between life and death. Persistence to goal is a transferable skill in college and career.

Myth #4: Student veterans are not college material. 

It’s heard far too often: In a time of war, if veterans could have gotten into college instead of winding up in the military, they would have gone to college. So they must not be smart enough.

 “When I found myself in an undergraduate environment at Florida State University in 2010, as I started interacting with student veterans across the country, I started seeing the most capable men and women I had ever encountered,” Lyon said. “Yet that ran counter to what I was hearing from [school] administrators and others.”

Lyon talks about the ongoing spirit and commitment of veterans he knows, leading them toward volunteer roles in student organizations and in their larger communities, coaching Little League teams and working with the Girl Scouts of America.

“I kept seeing evidence of success while I was being told veterans were doing so poorly,” he said.

Now that SVA has collected the data and research to prove the success of student veterans, Lyon said, the next step is to move them into careers that will help build success in civilian life.

Employers want to hire veterans, according to the 2017 Veterans’ Well-Being Survey, conducted by Edelman Intelligence. The problem, they say, is finding them. 

The survey found that 76 percent of the employers surveyed “struggle to find the right candidates.” In the same survey, though, 52 percent of employers believed veterans do not have successful careers when compared to average citizens, and 49 percent of employers believed that most veterans do not pursue a college degree.  

Lyon would like to correct those misconceptions. 

“We have an opportunity in higher education to help move people on from military to successful civilian lives,” he said. “There are 1.1 million veterans in higher education right now. We can add this incredibly accomplished population to our country’s workforce by showing employers where to look for veterans – in our nation’s best institutions of higher education – where 100,000 graduate every year. Partners like Raytheon know where to look, know veterans earn valuable degrees, and recognize talent hiding in plain sight.”

Published On: 11/07/2017
Last Updated: 01/16/2018