Student Veterans: Classroom Role Models

Dr. Patti and I talk about adult learners returning to school. One group is the student veteran. According to one source, 74% of all undergraduate students are veterans, work full time, attend school part time, have dependents, and are a single caregivers.

By 2011, more than 924,000 veterans returned to college. These numbers will increase as more veterans return to a challenging job market. How can we help student veterans find academic success?

In reality, veterans affairs and federal education agencies have little data on the student graduation rates for veterans. Adjusting to life after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan wars is challenging enough.

And going back to school is an additional stressor along with family, work, and other obligations. Here’s an overview of the student veterans issues in higher education.

Paperwork and campus life

  • Tons of paperwork from the Veterans Affairs.  The post-9-11 GI Bill provides public education for free (or $17,500 yearly for private or for-profit schools), a $1,400 monthly living stipend for veterans on active duty for at least three years since September 2001.
  • Challenging classroom culture. Student veterans struggle with reading or hearing impairments. Sitting in small classrooms and not asking for help is a self-belief of veterans being “bullet-proof.”
  • Life on campus can be lonely. Learning in an unstructured environment on campus can be isolating for student veterans.  They can feel lonely after leaving the camaraderie and culture of the military.
  • Many student veterans have mild brain injuries. This condition effects their attention span, memory, abstract reasoning, and overall learning skills. Veterans may not know  that they have a brain injury.

Other hidden distress

  •  Female veterans suffering from sexual assault. About 22% of sexual assaults on women happened on duty. Female veterans need time to recover from this betrayal by their military family.
  • Hurtful comments about the military. Faculty and students should be aware that veterans are proud to serve their country. Comments like “Did you ever kill anyone?”  are very upsetting to veterans who lost friends.
  • Combat trauma is not mental illness. Emotional trauma and PTSD result from the ongoing violence of war. The brain and heart need healing time, and veterans can adapt to daily living.
  • Veterans miss the uncertainty of war. As a result, student veterans can feel bored, lonely, and struggle to adapt to civilian life. Again, it will take time to adapt to an unstructured culture.

Success tools for student veterans

This isn’t rocket science. Faculty needs to be aware of different learning styles and listen to the needs of their student veterans. Success tools include:

  • Creating a network for student veterans can help them feel less isolated and more engaged in campus life.
  • Keeping an open mind to new ideas and experiences about the lives of student veterans.
  • Design classroom lectures around different learning styles: Wear a microphone, record classroom lectures for students to review as needed.
  • Post classroom lecture notes ahead of time for students to print out and follow along in class.
  • Avoid feeling slighted when student veterans look like they are not pay attention or listening. They may be struggling with mild brain trauma.
  • Student veterans are goal-oriented, experienced leaders and role models for younger students in class. They are one of “America’s greatest untapped human resources.”

Our student veterans deserve a chance for academic success.


Dr. Bessie


Ten Things You Should Know about Today’s Student Veteran

Stars and Stripes How many student veterans graduate? No one knows

True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.
~~~Arthur Ashe~~~

Author: Dr. Bessie DiDomenica

Food Policy Researcher • Resilient Agriculture Advocate • Public Speaker • Public Policy Wonk • Writer • Teacher • Social Entrepreneur • Associate Editor

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