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SVA working to better track vets' success rates in school

Jul. 12, 2013 - 05:22PM   |  
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A new effort to better track how student veterans fare in college — which holds the promise of identifying the practices and schools that best get vets to graduation day — is underway and should start producing information before 2014, the head of Student Veterans of America told lawmakers recently.

The lack of data on vets’ success rates in school has led to confusion and hampered efforts to improve higher education’s approach to veterans, SVA Executive Director Michael Dakduk said.

The new project, a joint effort involving SVA, the Veterans Affairs Department and the National Student Clearinghouse, is a “vital first step” in addressing the problem, Dakduk said.

“In addition, it will provide a foundation for future research, such as student veterans’ persistence [in school] and identifying critical times where student veterans are more likely to withdraw from college,” he told the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee’s economic opportunity panel June 20.

The Education Department keeps a wealth of data on schools across the U.S. and their students, but that information is focused on full-time students going to college for the first time. Vets rarely fit that description, as they typically start their higher education by taking classes part time while on active duty and are more likely to have family or work responsibilities that prevent them from going to school full time when they leave the military.

Schools also have done a poor job of keeping track of how their own veteran students do. In a Military Times survey last year, less than 10 percent of responding institutions indicated that they track course completion or degree completion rates for vets or military students.

The new project is intended to help fill the gap.

“SVA expects an initial report on the completion rate of approximately 1 million veterans that have used various forms of the GI Bill between 2002 and 2010. We expect to see some results at the end of this year,” Dakduk said.

Other efforts to collect, combine or distribute information to help student veterans are also underway.

A new collaboration by the Veterans Affairs, Education, Defense and Justice departments will centralize complaints about schools that serve their students poorly.

VA has posted a link to the Education Department’s College Navigator, which can be found at nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator and provides details about schools, on the VA eBenefits page.

VA is even working on a tool to help current and former troops figure out if they’re ready for school and which careers might suit them, according to written testimony from Robert Worley, director of the Veterans Benefits Administration’s Education Service.

The converging efforts to ensure vets are well-informed before they cash in their education benefits come in the wake of scathing criticism of some for-profit schools by members of Congress and the federal government.

During the June 20 hearing, Steve Gunderson, a former Republican representative from Wisconsin who now leads a for-profit education trade group, defended the industry before a comparatively sympathetic panel of lawmakers and witnesses.

Dakduk praised a report released by Gunderson’s group early this year outlining best practices for schools to follow when educating vets.

But Gunderson acknowledged a fact that remains a sticking point for many critics of for-profits: Because they typically are accredited differently than traditional schools, their credits are often not transferable to other institutions.

“Unfortunately, that is correct, and we would like to solve that,” Gunderson said.

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