Another 18 percent were still enrolled, the study found, meaning just over 28 percent had dropped out or stopped using government benefits.
But the figure is a national average, and graduation rates are not broken down by institution.
“I don’t know” what that would show, said Jared Lyon, the president and CEO of Student Veterans of America and a Florida State graduate. “But I would love to know.”
Advocates and student-veterans themselves say the fact that they do even slightly better than their classmates nationally, on average, attests to their discipline, maturity, and drive to balance college with financial, family, and work commitments; service-related disabilities; and the confounding rules and regulations governing not only military education benefits, but medical ones.
Painter, the former gunner’s mate who is now a business major and hopes to someday work for the San Diego Padres, said he didn’t worry much about those things. He spared only a passing glance at the Veterans Center when he first arrived at San Diego State, he said, not sure why he’d ever need it—until he started classes and ran up against GI Bill paperwork requirements and other challenges.
“Oh, that’s why,” Painter, 25, said he exclaimed to himself at the time.
While more than half of veterans in a survey by the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University said they signed up for military service for the education benefits, 60 percent complained the complexity of VA programs hampered their attempts to stay in school or graduate, 56 percent said they had inadequate financial resources to stay in college even with GI Bill help, and 28 percent said their family obligations created a conflict.
Veterans who have suffered trauma in particular have trouble adjusting to campus life and have difficulty sleeping and concentrating, new research conducted at community colleges by investigators from the universities of Arkansas and California, Riverside found. They said this puts student-veterans at higher risk for dropping out of institutions that fail to provide them with support.
Contending with the comparatively less disciplined environment of a campus can also be a particular problem for veterans used to being told what to do and when to do it, that study and others have found.
“You go back to college and all that structure goes away,” said Cody Vanderpool, 25, a Marine Corps veteran and mechanical-engineering major at Florida State.
Veterans also often have to fight with colleges to have their military training and experience converted into academic credit. If they can’t, they risk running out of GI Bill money before they earn degrees, forcing them to choose between giving up and paying out of their own pockets.
Even when the money’s flowing, the GI Bill, which provides up to $21,970 a year toward tuition and fees, plus stipends for housing and books, doesn’t cover all of most veterans’ costs.