Swords to Plowshares Releases Findings on Supports for Student Veterans

April 25, 2018

During the 2017-2018 academic year, Swords to Plowshares’ Institute for Veteran Policy conducted qualitative research with 75 veterans and nine campus staff from Bay Area colleges to assess formal and informal supportive practices on campuses and to better understand the direct challenges and needs of student veterans. Students and staff from San Francisco State University; University of San Francisco; University of California, Berkeley; and City College of San Francisco were interviewed. The information in this report provides research-based recommendations to colleges to improve services for—and ultimately education outcomes of—student veterans.

Throughout the study, common themes emerged among participants from the schools we studied, namely, it became clear that programs varied in their level of support for veterans. Strengths at some universities were nonexistent at others, and this had a clear impact on student outcomes.

Some of the shared challenges these students faced:

  • Inaccessible resources and inadequate information worsens the challenges of transition to college
  • The GI Bill isn’t enough for veterans to be financially supported in school or to finish a degree, and many veterans are living in poverty
  • There is a cultural disconnect between veterans and non-veterans in their lived experiences, and this affects their relationships with other students, faculty, and college staff
  • Veterans feel faculty and staff lack veteran cultural competency and provide mixed levels of support
  • Limited funding for staff stretches veteran resource centers beyond capacity, but a proactive staff go above and beyond reasonable expectations to serve veterans
  • Certifying officials are overburdened and undertrained, while obligated to perform duties outside of veteran benefits
  • Career counseling does not adequately prepare veterans for the civilian workforce or consider their military experience
  • Housing support is essential and lacking
  • Schools claim to be “veteran-friendly” but veterans don’t understand why, and they want schools to provide more explicit criteria

What can be done to address these challenges? Our report identified several recommendations for colleges that want to better support student veterans. Through our findings, trainings for educators, and other tools, colleges can gain practical insights to make an impact on their campuses.

Colleges must honor their commitment to serve these students and ensure the public promise to pay for veteran education fulfills its potential. Providing formal supports for veterans should be a standard for institutions that receive GI Bill dollars.

Read the full report: “The Path Forward: What Universities Need to Know to Help Student Veterans Succeed”