Colleges and universities seek to attract, retain military-connected students

U.S. nonprofit colleges and universities are increasingly reaching out to veterans and members of the military service to boost postsecondary enrollment and enrich their campuses with the unique strengths and experiences of military-connected students, Inside Higher Ed reports. Selective higher education institutions see the diversity that exists among military-connected students as a boon, especially now that the Supreme Court has ended race-conscious admissions

“I think student veterans check a variety of boxes that institutions are looking for,” Sydney Matthes, chief program officer at Service to School, a nonprofit that provides free college counseling to veterans, tells Inside Higher Ed.

Experts say that nonprofit colleges have ramped up their recruitment of veterans and service members to levels not seen since the 2008 passage of the Post-9/11 GI Bill®, which helps military veterans who served on active duty on or after September 11, 2001, pay for school or job training.

Changes in veteran and service member recruitment

For-profit institutions had been aggressive about recruiting service members and veterans in recent years, due to a loophole in the Higher Education Act that created a financial incentive for for-profits to target military students. Numerous veterans and families say they were victims of fraudulent marketing from predatory, for-profit colleges that have low graduation rates and often leave students with debt and non-transferable credit.

That loophole was closed in 2022, and experts hope the change will allow more nonprofit colleges to recruit service members and veterans. Service to School’s VetLink, which connects veterans and service members to mentors and admissions teams, has seen a 275% jump in the number of colleges participating in the program. Educational leaders hope this increased outreach can boost the number of military-connected students enrolled in nonprofit colleges with high graduation rates. Ithaka S+R found that from 2020-21, students using GI Bill® benefits were underrepresented at colleges where graduation rates are above 70% and overrepresented at schools where graduation rates are below 50%.

Thirty-one percent of all veterans have a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 35% of U.S. adults ages 25 and older, data from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce finds. However, according to a survey by Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans, 53% of service members said they joined the armed services to receive educational benefits, Diverse Issues in Higher Education reported in 2021.

Related: In programs to support student veterans, colleges see larger implications >

To attract and support military-connected students, nonprofit two- and four-year colleges are opening both satellite offices on military bases to serve the educational needs of military-connected students and outreach centers specifically geared toward helping service members and veterans start businesses and enrolling them in short-term courses. Indiana and Ohio are a few states partnering with higher education institutions to increase veteran enrollment in college by establishing processes to count their military experience toward college credit and pairing veterans with success coaches to boost retention.

Colleges are also expanding the financial support they offer through the Yellow Ribbon Program (YRP), which helps veterans, service members, and other military-connected individuals pay for out-of-state tuition and fees not covered by the Post-9/11 GI Bill®. Over 500 higher education institutions, including Georgetown University, have participated in the YRP, with several colleges increasing the amount of financial support they provide through the program.

Support for military-connected students at Georgetown

Beginning in the 2023-24 academic year, Georgetown University’s School of Continuing Studies (SCS) provided unlimited YRP scholarship maximums, so military-connected students who qualify for both the Post-9/11 GI Bill® and YRP can have their full-time tuition costs fully covered. SCS will also no longer place a cap on the number of military-connected students who can participate in the program. Earlier this year, the University also announced its expansion of undergraduate YRP benefits for military-connected students, from $8,000 to $20,000 at the College of Arts & Sciences, Walsh School of Foreign Service, School of Nursing, School of Health, and McDonough School of Business.

Georgetown’s military-connected students say that the university’s expansion of YRP benefits has been invaluable. “The fact that the YRP is so openly available spoke volumes before I even set foot on campus as to how supportive Georgetown is of the veteran community,” says Raquel Burgett (G’25), who served as a Spanish language intelligence analyst countering drug cartels in Latin America. “I can’t say it enough. If not for the financial support, I would not be here. I don’t just feel accepted at Georgetown. I feel invested in.”

Georgetown is home to more than 1,200 military-connected students and provides support through the Military and Veterans’ Resource Center. The office serves as a liaison and advisor to ensure that prospective and current military-connected students receive accurate and comprehensive information about admissions, as well as financial, academic, career, and other resources.

Read more about Georgetown’s support for military-connected students.

GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Explore more information provided by the U.S. government about education benefits offered through the VA.

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