For the first time in the 11-year history of the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), the responses of veterans were singled out and compared with those provided by nonveteran undergraduate students.
Using data collected from 564 colleges and universities in the United States, NSSE analyzed the responses of about 362,000 freshmen and seniors to get a handle on what is actually going on in the lives of students and the quality of their college experience.
To explore the unique experiences of a growing population of veterans at four-year baccalaureate programs, NSSE surveyed nearly 11,000 self-identified veterans (3.4 percent of all US NSSE respondents), including 4,680 combat veterans. Seniors comprised 75 percent of the sample, while the remaining 25 percent were first-year student veterans.
The veterans surveyed were predominantly male and more likely than their classmates to be older, enrolled part time, first-generation students, transfers, and distance learners. First-year vets were comparable to nonveterans in terms of race and ethnicity, but seniors included proportionally more African Americans and fewer Caucasians. Although enrolled in all types of institutions, student veterans were most likely to attend public colleges or universities.
And sadly, one in five of the combat vets reported at least one disability.
It turns out that those veterans attending four-year institutions spend much more time working at jobs and caring for dependents than their nonveteran peers. In fact, full time first-year combat veterans spent “twice as much time working and about six times as many hours on dependent care” as their nonveteran classmates
But, they spend just as much time studying.
On the negative side, student veterans, especially in the senior year, were “generally less engaged and perceived lower levels of support from their campuses,” according the 2010 report. Despite these perceptions, there were no significant differences between first-year student veterans and nonveterans in the levels of overall satisfaction.
Based on these findings, NSSE recommends that institutions should seek ways to “engage student veterans in effective educational practices and provide them with the supportive environments that promote success.” Further, as the number of veterans seeking educational benefits continues to grow (last year over 300,000 student veterans used the new GI Bill to pursue postsecondary degrees), colleges will need to devote resources to serve the unique needs of these students.
Locally, several colleges and universities are working to support veterans. Recognized as “military friendly” institutions, American University, George Washington University, George Mason University, and Marymount University are making extraordinary efforts to welcome returning vets and provide services designed to promote their transition to college.
For more information or to read the entire 2010 National Survey of Student Engagement report, visit the NSSE website.