Study will focus on veterans’ transition to higher education

Since the Post-9/11 GI Bill was signed by President Barack Obama in 2009, about 500,000 veterans have enrolled in universities and two-year colleges. With more U.S. troops returning from the Middle East, a record number of veterans are expected to be enrolled this fall under the bill, which provides free tuition, a monthly housing stipend and up to $1,000 a year for books to eligible veterans.

At the University of North Texas, which has an estimated 1,200 former and active military members among its students, researchers are investigating the challenges that veterans encounter when they return to college or enroll for the first time, including strategies that veterans use to cope with psychological stress resulting from deployment experiences, and how that stress may impact their academic progress and social adjustment to college.

Shelley Riggs, associate professor of psychology, and four student researchers plan to recruit 200 veterans from all military branches for the VETS, or Veterans' Experiences Transitioning to Students, project in the Department of Psychology's Family Attachment Lab. Participants in the project will fill out an online survey, which will take 45 to 60 minutes to complete. Riggs said those who served in the military reserves, as well as active-duty veterans, may participate. They must be currently enrolled in a four-year college or university or a community college, and do not have to be UNT students.

Veterans "have a unique set of circumstances in adjusting to college," said Riggs, whose father was an Air Force pilot during the Vietnam War.

"They're older and more likely to have children and family responsibilities, and they tend to have different values than students who are traditional college age. The military emphasizes the importance of duty, respect and honor, and veterans tend to have those particular values," Riggs said.

She said past research has shown that non-traditional students in general often are more disciplined about studying and attending class than younger students, and tend to make higher grades as a result. Student veterans may have some of the same strengths as other non-traditional students, she said.

"We want veterans who have adjusted well to college to participate in the study as well as those who are struggling, since we'd like to determine the strategies that the successful student veterans are using," she said. "We are counting on the fact that if they know that they will be helping out their fellow veterans, the veterans who have made a successful transition will be willing to fill out the survey."

UNT has both a Veterans Center, which opened in fall 2009, and an active Student Veterans Association. The university was selected for inclusion in G.I. Jobs magazine's "Military Friendly Schools" list for 2012 and also to the "Best for Vets: Colleges 2011" list released by Military Times EDGE, part of Military Times Newspapers.

A report released by the American Council on Education this past July showed that 62 percent of the institutions that were surveyed were providing programs and services on campus for veterans and current military personnel. Fifty-seven percent in the ACE's report in 2009 had said they were providing the services. In addition, about 71 percent of institutions in the latest report said providing these programs and services were part of a long-term plan, as compared to 57 percent of the institutions in 2009.

To receive information about participating in the UNT VETS study, contact the researchers at familyattachmentlab@unt.edu.

— Nancy Kolsti, UNT News Service