On the 75th Anniversary of the GI Bill, Military-Connected Students Need The College Transparency Act
Seventy-five years ago, on June 22, 1944, the GI Bill was enacted. At the bill signing, President Roosevelt recognized the sacrifices of Americans who served in the military and acknowledged the moral responsibility of the American people to support our veterans as they returned home. With this legislation, President Roosevelt also affirmed the unique potential of higher education to make real the promise of economic and social advancement for our veterans and military families.
The sacrifice and commitment demonstrated by our military servicemembers and their families remains as strong as ever, and so too, should our commitment to investing in their future. We know that higher education provides a robust pathway for military veterans to build on the skills they developed during their service, pursue civilian careers that help them achieve economic security and build better lives for themselves and their families.
However, the federal government is not ensuring that military-connected students have the best possible chance of success in pursuing postsecondary education. Veterans are often first-generation students and some are from underserved populations. They may not have the help they need to select a high-quality postsecondary institution that will foster their success in their chosen field, further their aspirations, and offer the personalized supports they may need along the way. Once they narrow their options down to a few schools, they will also need help navigating the application and acceptance process. As a society, we should empower veterans and their families to make fully informed decisions about where to go to college, what to study, and how to use their GI Bill benefits. To do that, they need access to better information about student outcomes.
Military-connected students deserve better information that counts all students and information on the military-connected student population specifically. In order to make decisions that will shape their post-service futures, they need to know how each institution and program will serve them. For example, they need answers to questions about a veteran’s chances of actually graduating, how much student loan debt military-connected students incur, whether veterans earn enough after graduation to repay their student loans, and whether veterans who complete some certificate or degree programs are more successful than those who complete other programs. Not only will this information help military-connected students make informed decisions about where to pursue their postsecondary education, but it will also give tools to institutions who want to do a better job helping those who have served our country.
Currently, the Department of Education has no veteran specific outcome data to help military-connected students make an informed choice about where to use their benefits. Despite having worked with other federal agencies to define veteran outcome metrics, the Department appears to believe that requiring schools to report veteran-specific outcomes would be too burdensome. Moreover, the student outcome data that are currently reported have well recognized flaws. For example, the graduation-rate metric counts only students who are enrolled in school for the first-time and who attend as full-time students. This metric leaves out student veterans who may have started their postsecondary education before enlisting, who earned college credits while in the military, or who may attend school part-time. The Department should collect and report outcome data on veterans as they progress through school as well as their outcomes once they graduate so that policymakers and schools can better understand how the higher education system serves this important student population. Realizing these goals will require better information sharing between the Departments of Defense, Veterans Affairs, and Education. In fact, the Veterans Affairs and Education Departments signed, but never implemented, a data-sharing agreement in 2016 that would provide data on veteran student loan debt.
Access to comprehensive and digestible data is the first step in understanding the progress, successes and challenges facing military-connected students. That is why 37 organizations representing the interests of more than two million military-connected students in higher education called on Congress to pass the College Transparency Act (CTA). This bipartisan bill would make institution- and program-level data accessible to students and families as they make decisions about where to attend college, to policymakers and institutions as they develop policies to help students succeed, and to businesses as they work to build the talent pipeline needed to grow the economy.
All students have a right to know answers to key questions before investing precious time and money in their education. And as we commemorate 75 years of the GI bill, we need to renew our commitment to our nation’s veterans and make sure that they have the best possible chance to succeed in college, earn a degree, and pursue a career that is secure and fulfilling. Let’s start by ensuring that our veterans can make well-informed choices about where to invest their hard-earned GI Bill benefits.
Tanya Ang is vice president of Veterans Education Success, which works to advance higher education success for veterans, service members and military families, and to protect the promise of the GI Bill and other federal education programs. Follow on Twitter @TanyaMAng and @GIBillRights.