For-Profit Group Suggests Best Practices for Serving Military and Veteran Students

February 27, 2013

In order to better serve military and veteran students, colleges must be transparent and accurate in their recruiting efforts, provide active institutional support and faculty training, and improve measurements of success. Those are some of the recommendations in a report on best practices released on Wednesday by the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities, known as Apscu.

The recommendations in the report, by the Apscu Blue Ribbon Taskforce for Military and Veteran Education, are intended for all institutions of higher learning, but the report is notable in part because it comes from the main lobbying group for for-profit colleges. The sector enrolls a disproportionate share of military and veteran students, and some of its members have come under scrutiny amid efforts by lawmakers and the Obama administration to crack down on deceptive practices by colleges that recruit veterans.

The association convened the task force, which includes leaders of campus groups that serve military and veteran students, from both Apscu's member institutions and nonmembers, along with representatives of veterans' service organizations and others, to write the report. It comes as campuses across the United States are anticipating that thousands more veterans will enroll in the coming years, using their Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits.

"Obviously we don't have a right to tell anybody what to do," said Steve Gunderson, president of Apscu. "But we brought together some of the best practitioners in the field" to produce the report, he said, "and we want to share that with everyone."

The report organizes its guidelines under four sections, which relate to consumer information, institutional support, student services, and institutional-research guidelines. "Everything from admission and enrollment, to development of academics, to placement, often requires specific, appropriate services for veteran or active-duty military students," Mr. Gunderson said.

The first several pages echo research other organizations have previously reported, noting that more than a million veterans, service members, and military spouses, and their dependents are expected to enroll in higher-education programs using GI benefits in the coming years. Active-duty and veteran students are more likely than their nonmilitary peers to be part-time students, married, or parents, and to bring transfer credits—all characteristics that often require special services and make their educational outcomes difficult to track.

A lack of reliable data on military and veteran students is problematic, said Michael Dakduk, who is executive director of Student Veterans of America, a national advocacy group, and who served as an adviser to Apscu's blue-ribbon panel. Existing federal statistics on college-graduation rates include only first-time, full-time, nontransfer students, Mr. Dakduk said, meaning that most military and veteran students are excluded or considered dropouts. He said he worries inaccurate reports of veterans' educational progress could lead to cuts in GI Bill benefits.

Wendy A. Lang, director of Operation College Promise, which trains campus officials in programs for veterans, cautioned against "one-size-fits-all solutions," but said her group has found that certain practices prove consistently helpful. For instance, establishing a single point of contact for military and veteran students on a campus—a practice endorsed in the report—makes a "tremendous difference" in helping those students navigate campus life, Ms. Lang said.

Among other best practices, the report recommends the following:

  • Protect military and veteran students from "aggressive and misleading" recruitment practices, and provide accurate information during recruitment and enrollment, along with "in-depth financial counseling."
  • Appoint a senior-level administrator to lead support programs for military and veteran students, and designate additional employees to provide services and assistance.
  • Provide faculty training on active-duty and veteran students' learning needs and available support services.
  • Participate in the Yellow Ribbon program, in which the federal government matches institutional aid beyond benefits provided by the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and develop other ways for military students, veterans, and their families to more easily finance their education.
  • Develop community-building efforts within military- and veteran-student populations through physical and virtual meeting places and partnerships with veterans' services organizations.
  • Create "appropriate and accurate" metrics to deal with flaws in current measurements of student success, and better illustrate military and veteran students' progress.

The report on military and veteran students is the first of four best-practices reports that Apscu plans to release this year. The others will cover marketing and admissions, employment services and placement, and financial literacy.