By Chris Meek
Most Americans understand the potential benefits of pursuing higher education. These can include everything from earning a larger salary, to a higher potential for employment. Those with higher education often have a tendency for deeper involvement in civic activities and better overall health, in part, due to financial security.
The list goes on and on and has been imprinted in our minds by politicians, primary education instructors, and the like as the next logical step for high school graduates.
With it, higher education brings some appealing opportunities for young adults. Though higher education may not be for everyone, it certainly provides its own set of additional opportunities for veterans as they return home from service and begin to transition – and ultimately adjust – to civilian life.
Dispelling Myths About Veteran Students
It’s not just veterans that benefit from the institutions in which they enroll. Veterans serve as assets to the schools they attend, bringing with them unparalleled experiences and unique leadership characteristics from their time in service. Negative myths have been perpetuated casting veterans as underwhelming academic performers in comparison to their civilian peers.
It is no surprise that an abundance of research indicates what many members of the military have figured all along: veterans excel in higher education classrooms. In fact, they thrive in making the transition from the role of the active duty service member to student, to college graduate. In fact, I would argue that pursuing an education can play a large role in a comfortable transition back into the civilian world.
The success and track record of student veterans underlines the need and importance of the $5 billion dollars in education benefits attributed to student veterans annually through the Department of Veterans Affairs’ G.I. Bill. Particularly in 2020, a year made tumultuous by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic which has affected our country’s higher education students in general, let alone the additional effects it has had on our student veterans.
In response to the extra difficulties placed on student veterans at this time, Congress extended a number of financial protections earlier this month. These ensure the extension of work-study programs and leave housing stipends unchanged. These are important steps in helping student veterans navigate these trying times.
The Unique Financial Challenges of Non-Traditional Students
The G.I. bill, which has benefitted nearly one million veterans in the past year. However, even with these extensions, the bill has historically not always relieved all of the costs associated with obtaining a degree.
Textbooks, classroom fees, transportation, technology, tutoring, and a number of other additional expenses come with higher education and are often not considered upfront when developing a general financial plan. This is only made more difficult for the many veterans who also work full or part-time to support their families and other financial obligations that are not typical of the average college student.
In response to these often difficult realities, multiple scholarship programs (on both the local and national levels) have formed to reduce the financial burdens that come with obtaining an education. These scholarships make the transition into higher education easier for veterans.
SoldierStrong, the nonprofit that I co-founded and serve as executive director for, is one such organization that provides scholarships through our SoldierScholar initiative.
We assist veterans in taking an academic step into their future by filling in gaps left by the G.I. bill. so that veterans can finish their college education in order to continue public service careers upon the conclusion of their military service. We are proud of the over $500,000 in scholarships we have been able to provide. These scholarships have provided benefits to student veterans at Georgetown University, Old Dominion University, and Syracuse University.
We look forward to awarding more SoldierScholar scholarships this year to benefit veterans as they complete their academic journey.
U.S. Army veteran Edrena Roberts, a 2019 SoldierScholar recipient at Georgetown University, said that receiving a SoldierScholar scholarship has given her “incredible peace of mind” and that it has helped make her “success a reality.”
Roberts is currently receiving her Master of Professional Studies in Applied Intelligence and hopes to use her degree to someday work for the FBI as an analyst. It’s veterans like Roberts that prove why it is so important that organizations continue to provide access to higher education. These opportunities allow veterans to apply the leadership and problem-solving skills they developed in the military to their future careers, thus finding new ways to serve their communities and country.