Student Veterans of America (SVA) hopes to soon show that the Post-9/11 GI Bill's $34-billion price tag was worth it.
SVA announced at its annual national conference this weekend in Scottsdale, Ariz., that it will soon release national graduation rates for student veterans attending college on the Post-9/11 GI Bill. SVA, an official partner of the Legion, has worked with VA for the past year to find the first actual, concrete statistics for the rate at which GI Bill users are graduating.
The organization, and veterans supporters everywhere, hope to use the statistics to justify the Post-9/11 GI Bill's cost and protect it and other education benefits from a Congress that is looking to cut rather than spend.
"We're looking at the end of January or beginning of February (for releasing the statistics)," said SVA CEO and President D. Wayne Robinson. "What we're looking to learn initially is graduation rates. That way, we can dispel the myths out there. We want to be able to show up at the table with concrete data to show what our veterans have been doing."
Up to this point, reports of student veterans graduation rates have either been baseless or speculative, as several media outlets have drawn criticism for reporting data that is either anecdotal or flat-out incorrect. Working with VA and the National Student Clearinghouse, SVA has been at the forefront of finding out how the newest wave of student veterans actually perform in the classroom. Tracking student veterans' graduation has also been a major priority of The American Legion's.
Once it releases the graduation rates, Robinson said SVA plans to enter the second tier of its study and analyze the data to find the areas where student veterans are performing the best.
"The second phase is to be able to find persistence rates, empirically find those programs that actually contribute to graduation rates and then replicate that throughout the nation," Robinson said.
SVA's second objective for the year, it announced at its conference, is to establish a nationwide alumni network of student veterans who have graduated from college or from some post-secondary institution. The goal is to create a network that connects current student veterans with veterans who have earned a degree or certificate at the same school, said Matt Feger, vice president of Development and Strategic Growth for SVA.
"Every school has an alumni network," Feger said. "We really want to create one for veterans."
Speaking at the conference, Peter Gaytan – executive director for The American Legion's Washington office – touched on the same theme of needing to mentor current student veterans. He told attendees, which consisted mostly of SVA chapter leaders from schools around the country, that they should look to their local Legion posts if they need assistance for anything – whether it's help with obtaining benefits or counsel from a fellow veteran who knows what it's like to juggle a family, school and a career.
"Chapters" are the local units of SVA and are based at universities and post-secondary institutions. With 950 chapters, SVA has a presence at most schools in the nation and even several nations abroad.
Gaytan said posts should locate their local SVA chapter and reach out to it. And SVA chapters should do the same. "By partnering together, we can continue our commitment of service together," Gaytan told attendees.
Feger echoed the same sentiments, saying Legion posts and SVA chapters could learn a lot from each other.
"(Posts) have that space and financial backing that could be beneficial to a student veterans organization that really may just be getting off the ground," Feger said. "Running a post is similar to running a chapter."
In 2014 – SVA's seventh year of existence – officials from the organization hope to not only prove that the Post-9/11 GI Bill was worth it and worth expanding further. They also hope to grow their organization even further to accommodate the student veterans that are returning and looking to use their education benefits. SVA has nearly doubled its number of chapters since its conference last year.
"There are more student veterans that are enrolling in higher education," Feger said. "SVA will really continue to professionalize and offer more substantial programs to support student veterans."