The new GI Bill is likely to bring an influx of veterans to college in 2009, but there’s precious little consensus about how best to help these students succeed once they arrive on campus, according to the American Council on Education.
ACE unveiled a program Monday that aims to grow programs that serve student veterans. Perhaps more importantly, ACE officials say they’re determined to find out whether programs that purport to help veterans navigate through higher education actually work.
With the help of funding from the Wal-Mart Foundation, ACE is offering a total of $2.5 million in grants to institutions that will operate model programs specifically designed for veterans on campus. Those programs could be as diverse as on-campus veterans’ organizations, peer mentoring groups and counseling services geared toward veterans.
The one-time $100,000 grants will be distributed to colleges that agree to publish an analysis of their programs’ effectiveness, potentially examining outcomes like graduation and retention rates.
“The intent is to have empirical data that can drive decisions on the appropriateness of replicating those programs across sectors,” said Jim Selbe, assistant vice president of lifelong learning with ACE.
The grants will be awarded on a competitive basis, and a premium will be placed on funding institutions that have clear plans for tracking outcomes, Selbe said.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs tracks college-going rates for veterans, but the outcomes for student veterans – and how those outcomes might be affected by support programs -- have not been followed closely, Selbe said. There’s also little definitive data about the prevalence of veteran-specific programs across higher education, he said.
“Right now that’s information that no one has,” Selbe said.
Survey to Examine Span of Programs
A key prong of ACE’s new initiative, called ”Serving Those Who Serve: Higher Education and America’s Veterans ," will be conducting a national survey of colleges to identify the services and programs already offered to veterans. ACE plans to make its findings public through seminars and reports, but there’s been no decision yet about whether to publish institutional-level data that might begin to show which specific colleges have the most robust veterans programs – and which ones have few or none at all.
“I would say that we haven’t come to a decision as to whether to engage in that as well,” Selbe said. “We’re in the early stages.”
A chief concern for ACE officials is whether veterans are fully aware of the educational benefits that will be extended to them under the new GI Bill, formally known as the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008 . The law, which goes into effect Aug. 1, 2009, would provide funding for tuition and fees up to the cost of in-state tuition at the most expensive public college in a veteran’s state. ACE aims to spread information about the new benefits through a newly developed Web site, supported by an $800,000 grant from the Lumina Foundation for Education.
“I think there is a big challenge to make sure that there is effective communication to all the individuals who are eligible, and to [help them] understand that college is a possibility for them and/or for their dependents,” said Molly Corbett Broad, president of ACE.
In the most recent National Survey of Veterans,  released in 2001, fewer than half of veterans said they were satisfied with their ability to get the information they needed about benefits. The newest cohort of veterans surveyed at that time were those from the Gulf War, 30 percent of whom said they had received training or education benefits. Gulf War veterans had the lowest education benefits participation rate of any cohort on record, dating back to World War II, after which 42 percent of veterans said they’d received such benefits.