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Data lacking on success outcomes for student vets

May. 13, 2014 - 05:22PM   |  
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Prospective students and the public have more information now than ever on how well schools perform in educating veterans, and at what cost.

But despite recent improvements, much less is still known about vets in higher education than nonvets, school representatives and veterans advocates told lawmakers May 8.

“While I firmly believe that our veterans deserve every penny of these [federal education] benefits, it has become clear to me and to most of the veterans community that there simply have not been enough metrics to track the return on taxpayer investment through student success,” said Rep. Bill Flores, R-Texas.

Whether the generous Post-9/11 GI Bill and other Veterans Affairs Department and Defense Department education benefits are being put to good use is an important question in a budget-conscious Washington and could have broad implications for the future of such programs.

VA, Congress and private organizations are working, sometimes in collaboration, to try to fill the information void on student veteran success.

VA, which launched a tool in February that allows vets to quickly compare schools across several categories, is working to produce more information in coming months.

Curtis Coy, a VA deputy undersecretary, told the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee’s economic opportunity panel that his department is working to produce information on a variety of academic success measures — such as graduation, transfer and persistence rates — as well as data on how long it takes veterans to complete a degree or certificate and how many different schools they attend throughout that process.

Additionally, Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., touted a bipartisan bill that would require schools receiving GI Bill funds to track and publish vet-specific data on retention and employment rates, as well as other information.

Such information specifically on student veteran outcomes isn’t collected at many schools, and the data that the federal government currently requires schools to release is tallied in a way that often excludes student veterans from being counted in measures of how the general student population is faring.

William Hubbard, vice president of external affairs for Student Veterans of America, expressed support for Takano’s proposal.

Hubbard’s organization in March released a study of vet success rates, dubbed the Million Records Project, which aimed to determine the graduation rates of GI Bill users.

That effort found that nearly 52 percent of such students earned either a degree or certificate.

But the study’s undersampling of students attending for-profit institutions, as well as a methodology that differed significantly from standard procedures, could call its findings into question.

Still, lawmakers and others praised the study as a good first step, and Hubbard said SVA’s work will continue.

“Our next phase will seek to build and expand upon the findings of the initial research, by beginning to explore what institutional factors influence student veterans’ persistence and degree attainment,” Hubbard said.

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