Veterans and Student Engagement

by David French

Inside Higher Ed has an interesting story regarding the first-time inclusion of veterans in the annual National Survey of Student Engagement. The conclusions? Vets are less “engaged” on campus than the average student, are older (that’s hardly surprising; they’ve been busy), and spend more time working or caring for dependents, but are just as satisfied with their campus experience as other students.  

I’ve kept up with my friends from Iraq who are taking advantage of the incredibly generous post-9/11 G.I. Bill, and the survey seems to track their experience. Campus life generally doesn’t interest them (in fact, many of them find classroom discussions and campus life almost painfully detached from reality), but the education does, and they’re very pleased to be in school.  

One quote, however, stood out from the rest of the story:

“I am not surprised by the findings as they are consistent with what veterans have shared with us in detailing their experiences on campus,” said James Selbe, assistant vice president of lifelong learning at the American Council on Education. “I applaud the authors for encouraging institutions to more effectively engage student veterans in effective educational practices and provide them with supportive environments. This is especially important for first-time, first generation student veterans who are coming from a military environment where learning is focused not on engagement but on demonstrating specific competencies.”

University learning isn’t focused on “demonstrating specific competencies”? In the hard sciences and most professions, I’d have to disagree. In fact, the military’s focus on “demonstrating specific competencies” is perfect preparation for a student seeking a degree in engineering, information technology, medicine, physics, math, or other similar fields.

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