Reflecting on common characteristics shared by many students with military experience can aid in promoting awareness across university campuses. This section describes the growth in veterans at the University of Arizona, educational barriers associated with transition, and examples of faculty-student interaction collected through our research.
A Growing Population
To help serve this growing population, the Student Vets Center has emerged as an important resource for veterans on campus. As enrollment of student veterans has risen in the last few years, the center has become a central site for socializing and working. By making use of the shared experience of being in the military, the center has capitalized on the camaraderie of veterans to promote a cohort mentality that encourages accountability and commitment to success. In addition, the center functions as a one-stop resource center aimed at centralizing where students can connect to other services on campus. Moreover, the center has become a site of refuge, or a geographic center on campus where student veterans can relax and feel safe from the environmental triggers present in many parts of the UA campus. One of the main challenges facing the office is finding a way to reach the large number of student veterans who either are not aware of its existence or visit infrequently. In the last few years , the office has seen exponential growth in usage. For instance, in Spring 2010 the office hosted roughly 300 visitors per week, and occasionally had as many as one hundred veterans visit in a single day. Since Fall 2009, it has been located on the fourth floor of the Memorial Student Union. The office offers a study room, tutoring, food and refreshments, and serves as the site for the social functions of the Student Veterans of America club on campus.
Transition and Integration
Veterans who choose to enroll in higher education are situated within a broader set of transitions between their military service and their eventual role in civilian society. Thus, the transition between military service and higher education consists of longer series of smaller transitions, each of which can have residual effects. They often include transitions from civilian to military personnel, the decision to leave the military, a period of readjustment to civilian life, the shift from civilian to student, and the expected transition from student to a professional career. Each of these transitions can involve severe disruptions for individuals as their roles and social status undergo considerable shifts.
Once they arrive on university campuses, students with military experience frequently experience difficultly in transitioning to college life. They share many common characteristics with non-traditional students. Student veterans are more likely to have been married, have children, be employed, and have a variety of professional experience. Like many non-traditional and older students, they often treat their education in a practical manner – more like a job than a process of self-discovery. Their objective in pursuing an education is to develop their career, find a specific job, or retrain themselves for a new profession. There are a number of areas where student veterans from the OEF/OIF era differ from non-traditional students who are not veterans. A large percentage of veterans bring an understanding of global geopolitics and cultural awareness from their experience living outside the United States. Many veterans have in positions of leadership with significant responsibility. One student veteran described how he had to shift from being in charge of a large budget to being a “lowly undergrad:”
One week I’m in charge of forty people and the hydraulics and airframes of thirty ten million dollar aircraft kind of thing, and I’m ordering parts that probably cost five hundred thousand dollars every week. So, I mean, and then you’re basically, in my case, the GI Bill covers tuition, but you still have to work, and then you know I’m flipping steaks in a restaurant. … I was like alright, a couple years of this remedial crap, and I’ll be okay, you know.
Unlike undergraduates coming straight from high school, many veterans have been responsible for equipment and missions where people’s lives were at stake. In contrast, at the university they feel as if they are back to the bottom rung of the hierarchy, which can be frustrating.
Goals and Perceptions about Higher Education
In survey conducted by DVRE staff in 2011, we asked UA student veterans about their interactions with faculty and non-veteran students on the University of Arizona campus. The figure below shows results from a question that asked about how faculty, staff, and student perspectives on veterans were factors that impacted student veterans.
The results indicate that the impact of these groups were viewed to be positive or to have no effect. Students were more likely to be seen as a having a negative impact (13%), but a majority in all three areas felt that there was a positive effect. Open-ended responses to this question suggested reactions varied considerably and depended greatly on individuals. A few people noted that several faculty and staff had been extremely supportive and helpful, and that faculty were often “deferential” and “tolerant.” Students were described by several people as neutral since they were often “apathetic in general.” The few disrespectful statements that had been made about veterans had come from students.