College a new skirmish for many veterans as 88 percent drop out in first year

Published: Tuesday, July 3 2012 2:37 p.m. MDT

Among the approximately 800,000 military veterans now attending U.S. colleges, an estimated 88 percent drop out of school during their first year and only 3 percent graduate, according a report forwarded by the University of Colorado Denver

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The transition from the battlefield to the classroom can be an extreme challenge for many veterans, and the stark difference has one veteran saying, "I felt like I was on another planet."

"Among the approximately 800,000 military veterans now attending U.S. colleges, an estimated 88 percent drop out of school during their first year and only 3 percent graduate, according a report forwarded by the University of Colorado Denver, citing the analysis by U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education and Labor and Pensions," reports Bill Briggs in an MSNBC news article.

The reasons for their struggles are numerous and wide-ranging and include both physical and cultural adaptation problems.

"Rusty academic skills, family responsibilities and a sense of alienation from younger classmates can make it hard for veterans to succeed on campus, as noted in the Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice," according to a U.S. News education article by Joanne Jacobs. "Some also struggle with brain injuries and post-traumatic stress."

If it is not a physical challenge, such as PTSD, the social aspect of attending a university can be a complicating factor for many veterans.

"Some student veterans say they have little in common with their younger, more sheltered classmates whose concerns typically revolve around their social lives and separating from their parents," reports Sandra Boodman in a Washington Post article. "Many mourn the absence of the close friendships and intense sense of mission that are often the glue of military life, particularly in a war zone."

Much of the financial burden of attending college, however, was alleviated for some veterans with the implementation of the post-911 G.I. Bill several years ago.

"Under the post-911 G.I. Bill, the federal government covers up to 100 percent of veterans’ tuition and fees," according to the MSN article. "That money goes directly to the colleges, making the ex-servicemen and servicewomen financially attractive enrollees."

Some veterans also struggle with the perceived lax structure of the schools and aloof attitude of their classroom peers, which are dramatic contrasts to military life.

"The differences between regimented life in the military and the looser atmosphere on campus can be jarring, even overwhelming, veterans agree," according to the Washington Post article.

The article quotes senior Scott Disney, 28, who served in Afghanistan and is president of George Washinton University's chapter of the Student Veterans of America, as saying, "You’re used to getting up at 5:30 a.m. and doing PT (physical training), and at 9 a.m. kids are rolling into class in their pajamas, literally.”

Many schools are setting up programs and creating special classes for veterans in order to help combat some of the challenges of their transition. "However, some colleges have dropped special classes for veterans, preferring to focus on integrating them fully into the college community," according to the U.S. News article.

"In August 2011, (Navy corpsman Lucas) Velasquez transferred to the University of Colorado Denver after getting married. UCD, he learned, had a three-tiered system to help vets transition from military to college, stay in school and then move from graduation to the work force. As part of that program, the school assigns an upper classman to incoming, ex-military students to mentor them socially and academically. It’s based on a similar program used at U.S. military bases."

Experts agree that providing these types of services for veterans is critical to reducing the dropout rate and increasing their graduation and success rate.

"The challenges and barriers being encountered by veterans at many institutions make it more likely that ex-G.I.s will leave college with debts instead of degrees," warns American Progress in the U.S. News article.

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