The average traditional college student ranges in age from 18-22. In contrast, the matriculating student veteran ranges in ages from 22-42 with an average somewhere within the 23-27 age range. Many enter colleges and universities with some courses under their belt either online or acquired as part of education and training courses obtained during military service. As a result, most enter college skipping forward to their sophomore or junior year and missing the class-bonding period of a freshman year.
Student veterans are also accustomed to a former lifestyle of intense pressure, regimented routine, goal orientation and a disciplined combat mindset. Living in underclassmen dorms with younger, less disciplined and in many cases irresponsible students, is not appealing to these former warriors, to say the least. In some cases this mix can be a trigger. Consequently, this cultural disconnect often keeps student veterans from getting involved with their student peers and taking full advantage of all that the collegiate experience has to offer. Finding ways to connect this group of students to the university community both in and out of the classroom can be and often is a challenge.
As school administrators and faculty, our ultimate goal for every student is both academic and personal success. Research shows (Student Success in College, Kuh, 2005) involvement is the best way to help students succeed both in and out of the classroom. Socialization, campus activities, recreation, leadership, service opportunities and engagement in academic activities with peers are just a few enablers to a successful end. This philosophy holds true for student veterans also.
Fact vs. Perception. According to statistics by the VA, over 386,000 men and women who served in the military are compensated through federal disability for service-related anxiety disorders (Veterans Administration, 2010). This equates to roughly 30% of returning veterans being categorized with some form of Post-Traumatic Stress. This is a statistically significant number; however, it doesn't mean that the student veteran sitting in the back of the class is going to have a flashback if someone accidentally drops a textbook. Don't make assumptions, get to know these students; you may be surprised at what you learn. Similarly, be sensitive to the student's experiences in foreign countries when discussing pros and cons of military involvement and your opinion.
Getting Involved. As previously mentioned, being a member of a student organization can be an important factor in the success and enjoyment of the college experience. While academic learning is the primary goal of college, extracurricular activities help students learn and grow beyond the walls of the classroom and can provide the student with valuable hands-on-training to better prepare them for a future career. Participation in student organizations offers students opportunities for fellowship, leadership, recreation, and meaningful interaction with faculty, staff, and students. The good friends and times encountered through being actively involved on campus can help transform what is sometimes perceived as a large and overwhelming institution into a place a student can call home.
Understanding Resistance. If involvement plays such an important role in the student's success, why then, are student veterans resistant to participating in many of the university activities, clubs, socials and etc.? The answer may be both simple and complex.
How can we get these student veterans off the sideline and into the game? Guide the student to programs and activities that fit within their priority list and fall within short, mid and long-term timeframes.
Types of Involvement:
Questions student veterans may ask:
Jim Humphrey, assistant dean of students and director of Veterans Services at Lipscomb University, is a retired Lieutenant Colonel from the U.S. Air Force. Jim's primary focus is the care and success of our veteran students. The Veterans Service office provides support to all campus veteran students and their families. Additionally, it is the University's focal point for liaison activities, interacting with local, state and national level veterans organizations.