By Wendy Lang, director of Operation College Promise
In November of 2008, Operation College Promise (OCP) was founded by the New Jersey Association of State Colleges and Universities (NJASCU) to answer a call – the needs of returning servicemembers poised to transition from Operation Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. The nine-member institutions vowed to prepare their campuses to support these students as they moved toward completion of their college degrees.
It was anticipated that a growing number of veterans would pursue this opportunity in light of the most generous education entitlement package in 55 years. The enactment of the “Post-9/11 Veterans Assistance Act of 2008,” also known as the “Post-9/11GI Bill,” was poised to become another game changer in higher education, one that would prompt many more veteran students to seek a college degree. The struggling economy made the benefit more enticing as a reintegration tool as some two million veterans began the process of returning to civilian life in a grim job market.
In 1944, a very similar policy was unveiled in the wake of an unprecedented number of servicemembers returning from World War II. While there has been limitless scholarly debate on the true implications of this initiative – “The Servicemembers Readjustment Act of 1944” or “The GI Bill” – even some 60 years later, it’s fair to say some similarities exist – similarities that will likely be debated for years to come.
What are they?
To begin, both the 1944 and 2008 versions of the education entitlements far overshadowed and outweighed their predecessors. While the WWII bill seems paltry in 2013 dollars, it was a conceptual shift in emphasis that opened doors to higher education for a different group of learners and they took advantage of this opportunity in droves. Indeed, more than 7 of the 15 million returning veterans attained some type of degree or training. Many, credit this first version of the GI Bill for the establishment of the post-war American middle class and it was this surge in enrollment that contributed to the dramatic growth and evolution of the majority of public institutions here in New Jersey.
Today’s GI Bill (Chapter 33) makes its predecessor, the Montgomery GI bill (Chapter 30), look meager. To contrast them – the current version covers the entire cost of state college or university tuition (with a generous housing allowance), while the former provided about $1300 a month in 2008.
The initial emphasis of the OCP project focused on better dissemination of information regarding benefits and benefit attainment – the lack of which impeded successful reintegration. The nine members of NJASCU joined forces with the objective to lead the charge in assisting these veterans to successfully transition to the higher education milieu.
Expanding opportunities for returning student veterans continues to be the priority of OCP as it celebrates its 5-year anniversary. The enrollment of military-affiliated students on the nine NJASCU campuses continues to flourish, at about 17,000 of the total 108,000 population. Indeed, the increase on traditional campuses over the past 5 years has been dramatic – rising fivefold in the case of one of our institutions.
Also during this time, OCP’s signature professional development training – the Certificate for Veterans’ Service Providers (CVSP) program – has assisted some 500 professionals in 30 states in the establishment of a campus blueprint of best practices to optimize the success of their military-affiliated student body.
Here at OCP, we have been trying to ‘flesh out’ the praise for the GI Bill into actual numbers that prove its value to student veterans – and good news to all Americans. The revision of the November 2011 Pilot Study titled: “Completing the Mission II: A Study of Veteran Students’ Progress Toward Degree Attainment in the Post 9/11 Era” was just released last week.
Our updated report surveyed 741 students on 23 campuses. And, as in the 2011 OCP pilot study, there’s great news to report. Both “success rate” (credits attempted/credits earned) and “persistence rate” (continuing enrollment from spring to fall semesters in the same academic year) continue to be on par or exceed that of the general student population. Given an average GPA of 3.0 among the veteran students surveyed, research would suggest that these students are on the right track toward attaining a degree well within the 6-year national standard.
What are the take-aways from this data?
To begin with, military-affiliated students are assets to colleges and universities as highly-disciplined and motivated learners well aware of the “time-stamp” that the Post-9/11 GI Bill places on their education benefits. Campuses that OCP surveyed have implemented research-based programs and services to assist this population become acclimated to the campus environment and listened to their input on effective support mechanisms.
The result is a group of college learners who are excelling in this academic environment and developing into civilian leaders – leaders who will – as their World War II predecessors did before them – emerge as the next “Greatest Generation.” Their adaptability, discipline and drive are serving them well on the college campus and our colleges and universities are proud to support them “To, Through and Beyond” their next mission – attaining a degree.