AUDIO: Veterans turn to college after service – but how many graduate?

Comprehensive study could provide an answer by year’s end

By Henry Kerali

As veterans return home from war, many go to college as they embark upon the next stage in their lives. But how do these vets succeed once they’re back in school? Henry Kerali has more.



HENRY KERALI: Over the next year, U.S. combat troops will leave Afghanistan bringing an end to two wars that have defined the post-9/11 era. As troops return home, these young vets will have to think about what they do next. So what is their next move?

JESSICA BROIDY: After I got back from deployment, my priority became school.

HENRY KERALI: That was Jessica Broidy, an accounting major at George Mason University. Broidy served in the military and was deployed in Iraq in 2011. She’s one of many veterans who turn to college after service. For Broidy, the chance to go school was an opportunity she couldn’t miss.

JESSICA BROIDY: I didn’t always make good grades. I wasn’t really outstanding or good at anything, but once I joined the military I became very confident, and being a veteran is something that makes you stand out amongst others.

HENRY KERALI: How veterans fare in college has been a hot talking point in recent months. Last year, media reports pointed to a study by a Colorado-based organization that said 88 percent of veterans drop out after their first year. Advocacy group, Student Veterans of America, disputed that number. They say no one officially tracks veteran dropouts. But soon that will change. A lead researcher from the student vets group says graduation rates for veterans could be released by the end of the year. In January, the group agreed a deal with the Department of Veteran Affairs to chart graduation rates.

CHRIS CATE: We felt the need to get this project up and going, and partnership going rather quickly to investigate and do our own investigation and data collection and see what the number actually is from a national standpoint.

Photo by Matt Buck, via Wikimedia Commons How well do veterans succeed in college? Earlier this year, Veterans' groups started an initiative to chart graduation rates.

Photo by Matt Buck, via Wikimedia Commons
How well do veterans succeed in college? Earlier this year, veterans groups started an initiative to chart graduation rates.

HENRY KERALI: Researcher, Chris Cate, says the project will show how well veterans are doing in school. The government pays for vets in college through the GI Bill. Now, if the number of dropouts is as high as reported, people may question whether the GI bill is actually working. That’s why groups like the American Legion, say tracking graduation rates is so important. But what do student vets think about the move?  Alex Horton, a senior from Georgetown University, says the discipline soldiers have prepares them for the rigors of college life.

ALEX HORTON: I have never gotten a sense that people are dropping out or not graduating because of their experiences. I find that people are graduating and going on to great schools because of their experience.

HENRY KERALI: Horton is a military veteran who served in Iraq in 2007. He concedes vets may dropout because they’re older, and have obligations that interfere with school.

ALEX HORTON: There’s gonna be a lot more single parents who are veterans in college. There’s gonna be a lot more people who need to work. You know I work full-time and have a full-time schedule, and I don’t know anyone in my class who does that.

HENRY KERALI: Horton is talking about non-traditional students. These are the people not usually counted in official graduation statistics. Those stats only count traditional students, people who are full-time, and finish in four years. Researcher, Chris Cate, says the new database will take that information into account. He says researchers are taking a close look at, not just completion rates, but the time it takes veterans to finish their degree.

CHRIS CATE: Part of the goal with the partnership is also to track the transfers of student veterans, so do they start off at a two-year and go to a four-year?

HENRY KERALI: Ultimately, how veterans are doing in school is essential. As budget cuts sweep the nation, officials will likely want to see a return on their investment. Reporting for ‘Half the Battle,’ I’m Henry Kerali.


Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

This project, produced by journalism students at American University, explores the experiences of young veterans as they transition from soldiers to citizens.

Word Clouds From Veteran Survey

What did you miss the most about home?
What did you miss2

Why did you enlist?
Why did you enlist in the military.

From soldier to civilian - what problems did you face?
Challenge of transitioning to civilian life

What difficulties did you face upon returning to college?
Difficulties on returning to college

Word Cloud From Non-Veteran Survey

What challenges do vets face coming home? Non-vets

Top 5 questions veterans told ‘Half the Battle’ they hate being asked:

- Did you kill anyone?
- Do you have PTSD?
- Did you see anybody die?

- Did you get shot at?

- Was it hot?

SOC Logo long