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Mission Focused: Success in College

Mission Focused: Success in College

How a military background prepares students for college


According to the VA College Toolkit on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website, more than 670,000 veterans have used VA education and vocational rehabilitation benefits to further their education to date. Typically, veteran students do not fit the mold of traditional college students (ages 18-22). In fact, only 15 percent of veteran students fall in that age range. Most are 24 to 40 years of age. Sixty-two percent of veteran students are first-generation college students. Many of them have families. Nearly half are married and/or have children. Twice as many veteran students have a job off-campus compared to traditional college students.

Thanks to strengths and qualities developed during their military service, veteran students often perform well in college classes. The VA College Toolkit lists a host of strengths veterans bring to their campuses: work ethic, organizational skills, leadership, discipline, capacity for teamwork, problem solving and resiliency.

How do veteran students perform in unexpected, high-stress situations compared to their non-veteran peers? Nicole D’Alesandro, counselor at TCC South, sought to answer that question as she worked on her on doctoral dissertation. For her research, D’Alesandro focused on the academic outcomes of 559 FTIC (first time in college) veteran and non-veteran students across the TCC District during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic (Spring 2020). readers voted the word “unprecedented” as “Word of the Year” in 2020. And, why not? It was an apt description of all the firsts the world experienced with the pandemic.

In March 2020, TCC extended spring break for students by a week. When classes resumed on March 23, 2020, in-person classes became virtual. Not only did faculty and staff suddenly have to adapt to new methods of work and instruction—so did TCC students. Unprecedented, indeed.

D’Alesandro’s research showed that regardless of the hurdles—campus closures, virtual classes, social distancing—veteran students had significantly higher end-of-semester GPAs and were almost three times as likely to persist in their courses than the non-veteran students during the Spring 2020 semester. Her recommendation? Highlight the strengths of veteran students because they make a difference in academic performance.

Christina McDonald, veterans counselor at TCC Southeast, agrees, noting that the veteran staff and students appreciate the focus on skills rather than possible challenges they may face in their transition to college.

In fact, with proper guidance, more veteran students come to college equipped for academic success than not.

Christina McDonald
Veterans Counselor, TCC Southeast

“However, when deficits do exist, the veteran counselors determine the tools and services needed to encourage academic and personal success.” McDonald says other strengths embedded in veterans’ personalities—such as exceptional communication and ability to follow detailed directions—allow them to truly make the most of campus resources designed to assist them.

D’Alesandro identifies one other strength she sees in veteran students: exceptional humility. Rather than boasting in their performance, she said, they will simply say, “This is what I do.”

Go to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs VA College Toolkit.