Effective Institutional Practices Supporting Student Veterans in Higher Education

Despite high enrollment rates of Post-9/11 U.S. Military Student Veterans in higher education, identification of effective institutional practices that promote successful outcomes is an understudied topic. Although some studies have addressed the transition from military into postsecondary education, more research is needed to improve our knowledge about the experiences of student veterans and how non-profit higher educational institutions, especially student support services, can better help student veterans succeed. Through the lens of university student support staff, as well as student veterans, this qualitative study examines which factors student veterans and support staff perceive in contributing to successful attainment of a baccalaureate degree. For this study, in-depth semi-structured one-on-one interviews were conducted with a diverse group of 12 student support staff and 6 junior and senior undergraduate student veterans at a four-year public university in California. This study applied the Schlossberg Transition Conceptual Model by extending the support factor to include the critical role of four types of student support services: academic, mental health, disability, and career services. Several major overlapping and non-overlapping themes emerged from both student and staff interviews. The most salient theme was the critical role of the Veterans Center. The Center assists student veterans in their transition and adjustment to the university. It plays a central role in providing a physical space, a hub that facilitates connectedness and student engagement on campus and assist with access to vital services and resources on campus, as well as off campus. The assistance of the Veterans Center is critical in ensuring that students receive their financial benefits, as well as verifying their coursework, so they get the courses needed for graduation and meet all GI Bill requirements. Additionally, many of the on-campus services have liaisons between the Veterans Center and their corresponding service department, where identified liaisons help ensure student veterans receive the necessary support when needed. These findings can help inform higher educational institutions, its staff, faculty, and administrators about the best practices in serving the needs of veterans toward successful transition to college, retention, and undergraduate degree attainment, as the number of student veterans in higher education is growing nationally.