For a lot of students today, finding the right college or institute is easier with lots of resources and tools online. However, when it comes to service members and veterans, the choices are quite limited. Even the available resources might lack the efficiency required to tell students about their best options.
According to Barmak Nassirian, Director of Federal Policy for the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU, “I think we’re still far away from having the kind of reliable information that people can base good decisions on. These [tools] are works in progress, and at the end of the day, you really do need to do your own due diligence.”
Luckily, three federal agencies have established around four searchable online resources that could provide information to students. Some of these resources are customized as per the requirements of service members and veterans while the others are not.
Here are the top picks for students:
The Education Department’s College Navigator is probably the oldest and the most efficient resource for students. It currently has around 7,700 institutions that can be search by type, name, region, degree level and degree type. The tool can provide information across more than 12 categories, including but not limited to accreditation, academic outcomes and cost.
Note that even though it has a lot of data for traditional college students, it might not be as equipped to cater to service members and veterans.
For instance, the retention rates that is measured by checking how many students have continued their education once they started, is only calculated for first-time students. Similarly, graduation rates measure how many students earn degrees. It only considers full-time and first-time students. Lastly, the default rates only take into consideration students who have received loans from the federal government.
Now, here comes the problem for veteran and military students:
- Most service members and veterans are usually part-time students when the start education and are on active-duty as well.
- Most of them are not first-time students even when they first enroll as full-time students as veterans, since they already have credits from part-time schooling or military training.
- They do not rely much on federal loans since they can opt for tuition assistance and GI Bill education benefits.
To conclude, this means that service members and vets are usually not counted among the population. This usually creates a lot of problems for them when they are searching for the right colleges or education programs.
Note that the two largest TA providers of the country, the American Public University System and the University of Maryland University College, have less than 1 percent and 3 percent of students who meet the full-time and first-time requirements to be counted in the graduation rate.
According to David Bregeron, a senior fellow at the left-leaning think tan Center for American Progress, “Clearly we need to get to a place where we’re accounting for all of the students who enroll in higher education. At the moment, we’re doing second-best, and second-best is not good enough.”
The White House and the Education Department had introduced a new information tool back in September, 2015. College Scorecard works similar to College Navigator by providing information based on traditional students. However, the resource does have a military-related aspect that is a link to the Veterans Affairs Department tool.
In addition, another great feature of the tool is the data it produces on the amount of students earning after 10 years of enrolling at a college. However, this data also provides a lot of red flags considering that it shows alternate data as well.
Note that the information only counts students who are using federal financial aid, which again, service members and vets are unlikely to use.
Moreover, this can even be troublesome for other students as well, according to Nassirian. He added that there can be a lot of improvements in an institution or a program over a period of 10 years. Furthermore, he iterated that the schoolwide average that combines all the outcomes across various academic programs can outshine the degree specific details that could be a lot more useful to students.
He added, “Providing an institutional average … that’s not particularly actionable information.”
An Education Department spokesman shed light over the shortcomings with some data in a statement. According to the statement, the Education Department has been working on collecting graduation and completion data including the data of nontraditional students to make the metrics more accurate.
“The department will continue listening to students and their advocates to determine the best ways to engage and inform users, making changes in future iterations of the tool,” the statement confirmed.
GI Bill Comparison Tool
In comparison to the Education Department’s tools, the college finder of the VA department is filled with information specifically for veterans. The GI Bill Comparison Tool is able to estimate how much in tuition cost coverage and stipends can the VA provide. It depends on the individual’s length of service alongside his or her military status and college.
The tool is able to provide military and vet related information displaying if the institution:
- Has a group of student veterans
- Has agreed to the various veteran education and military initiatives
- Has been participating in VetSuccess on Campus Programs
There are other data points included as well such as graduation and retention rates. Note that these statistics do not overlook other students who have spent more time in college, as many Education Department tools do.
According to a recent statement, the VA noted that the department has made numerous amendments to the tool since it was first launched. It is now equipped with more updates.
“Our commitment is to improve the veteran experience, and that includes the information we display on the GI Bill Comparison Tool,” the statement confirmed.