Blog: The Educated Reporter

From Battlefield to Classroom: Veterans Head for Higher Education

James Dao of the New York Times has a fascinating story about active-duty troops and veterans taking advantage of federal tuition assistance for higher education, often in unusually challenging circumstances.

From Dao’s story, here’s the scene at a U.S. military airfield in Afghanistan moments after humanities class’ discussion of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” was interrupted by a rocket attack:

The students, most of them uniformed troops, repaired to a cramped bunker where a few continued discussing the book. There, they waited for an hour until the all-clear sounded. Class was over. “We’ve been through so many of those that you grow callous to it,” Chief Warrant Officer Justin Hutchinson recalled via Skype. “For most of us, it was like a cigarette break.”

As the U.S. accelerates its withdrawal from the battlefield, more troops are going to be returning home to pick up the threads of their “regular” lives. For many of them, exchanging “soldier’ for “student” can be a tough transition. A 2012 study by the American Council on Education found veterans struggle both academically and financially in college. On the upside, the council found substantially more colleges and universities had added programs and services tailored for veterans than when the study was first conducted in 2009.

At the same time, I also want to call your attention to a 2011 study which found that when veterans had sufficient wraparound support, they actually had higher GPA’s and a better retention rate than their civilian peers. (Inside Higher Ed reporter Elizabeth Murphy has a solid overview of the study.)

There’s been some first-rate reporting on this issue in recent months, including a piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education on the push at elite colleges to enroll more veterans. You can read Libby Sander’s work here.  For more on this issue, including concerns among some critics that some for-profit colleges are potentially taking unfair advantage of soldiers-turned-students, check out my post from Veterans Day.


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