Student Veterans are ready to lead...

Posted March 26, 2014

By: D. Wayne Robinson, CEO & President of Student Veterans of America

Veterans have the technical skills, moral character, and innate abilities needed to revitalize this nation and lead the next great wave of American progress. This is a core belief and driving ethos of Student Veterans of America. We see it play out everyday on hundreds of campuses nationwide and in the veterans leaving school as graduates. It is also the main reason why SVA joined the Got Your 6 campaign.

Collectively, our organizations are repeatedly proving that veterans are true civic assets and inspiring community leaders. SVA and our pillar partners, the Pat Tillman Foundation and Operation College Promise, recognize that education is critical to that long-term vision becoming a reality.

Over the next 4 years, it is estimated that roughly 66% of U.S. jobs will require a postsecondary degree or credential. SVA’s mission is to provide military veterans with the resources and support needed to achieve their academic goals in preparation for these rewarding careers. We achieve impact by delivering programs and services via a campus-based, peer-support system known as the SVA chapter network. Since SVA’s founding in 2008, we have grown from 20 campuses to chapters at more than 990 institutions of higher learning in all 50 states and three countries overseas. Each SVA chapter is an officially recognized student organization at that school and is run entirely by student veterans. While the activities of each chapter vary slightly to meet local needs, they all provide a peer-to-peer support system for student veterans and act to make campus more conducive to veteran success.

Some might wonder why SVA focuses on fostering peer support. The answer is simple: it works. Researchers have long reported that a sense of belonging, fostered through friendships, is critical to a student’s success. For student veterans, peer support is even more important as it was a central tenet of military service and these former service members typically enter higher education as the ultimate non-traditional students. They are older than their peers; they have very unique life experiences; most are balancing work, family, and school; and many have been removed from academia for four or more years. As Dr. David DiRamio of Auburn University notes, “connecting with peers – that is, other students who have military experience – is an important initial phase of [a veteran’s] collegiate journey and a key component to later academic success.”

In addition to peer support, the on-campus environment is also critical to a student veteran’s success. That’s why the Got Your 6 Education Pillar, led by SVA and the Pat Tillman Foundation, has committed to collecting pledges from 500 institutions of higher learning to implement veteran-supportive programs, policies, and practices by December 2014. To date, 145 schools have signed the pledge.

It may seem that we are far from accomplishing our original commitment, but in reality the landscape of higher education has become increasingly more supportive of student veterans over the past few years. In fact, the White House and the Department of Veterans Affairs recently established what are known as the Principles of Excellence “to ensure that Federal military and veterans educational benefits programs are providing servicemembers, veterans, spouses, and other family members with the information, support, and protections they deserve.” Not only was SVA a main advocate, along with The American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars, for their establishment, but the Principles have achieved the intended outcome of the Education Pillar’s commitment. To date, over 5,000 institutions of higher learning have signed a memorandum of understanding to abide by the Principles of Excellence.

In essence, our original commitment for schools to become more supportive of veterans has been accomplished and eclipsed with the support of the White House and Department of Veterans Affairs.

As of March 2014, we will not be asking schools to sign a duplicative pledge; we have set a new commitment for 2014 that supplements the Principles of Excellence. Institutions of higher learning are hungry for a roadmap that empowers them to successfully implement the Principles of Excellence and to best support their student vets. The Education Pillar is committed to providing such direction.

SVA and our partners—the Institute for Veterans & Military Families, the VA, and the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC)—will analyze the programs and services that lead to positive academic outcomes for student veterans. The data continues to be collected by surveying institutions and via SVA’s data-matching system that tracks graduation rates, persistence rates, and other academic outcomes.

The findings of SVA’s research will be amassed into a user-friendly, action-oriented toolkit to be distributed to 2,000 colleges and universities nationwide that are implementing the Principles of Excellence. Got Your 6’s generous financial support of nearly $500,000 will allow the Education Pillar to get this valuable information into the hands of service-providers nationwide. As a result, we expect millions of student veterans to have access to empirically-proven best practices and to see rapid increases in veteran degree attainment.

With their military training and post-secondary credentials, this generation of veterans has unlimited potential for achievement. Student Veterans of America and all of the Got Your 6 partners stand poised to empower veterans to realize that potential—to better themselves and the nation.