Student veterans face a host of challenging circumstances, from deployments to injury, that make earning degrees more difficult — at least, that’s what we thought. The research on veterans’ outcomes is spotty, at best. Because the funds for veterans’ education benefits are distributed independently of other federal postsecondary education benefits, through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) instead of the Department of Education, and because VA has focused more on the disbursement of funds than its beneficiaries’ performance, there’s been little research to explore those students’ academic course and outcomes. That’s despite the more than $11 billion spent annually on veterans’ education and support for servicemembers and veterans that spans the entire political spectrum—a stunning dichotomy between how much lawmakers claim to care about veterans’ successful transitions and how little we know about them.
A new, first-of-its-kind report from the Student Veterans of America starts to answer some of those questions. The Million Records Project, whose new report was released today, gathered data from the Department of Veterans Affairs for 1 million recipients of the Montgomery and Post-9/11 GI Bills between 2002 and 2010 — a sample that includes more than 1 in 5 of all such students during that time. Those records were matched with data from the nonprofit National Student Clearinghouse, which is the only source of such student unit records in the country, to find information like whether veterans earn degrees, what level of education those students earned, and how long it took them to do so. The data offer critical –albeit limited—new insights into the lives and needs of veterans