WCER Project Explores Academic & Career Pathways of Undergrad Military Service Members & Veterans

VETWAYS will focus on their college experiences and social support networks

November 8, 2019   |   By Lynn Armitage

A new research project focused on the experiences of undergraduate military service members and veterans enrolled in Wisconsin universities has recently been launched at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research, part of UW-Madison’s School of Education.

The Veteran Education to Workforce Affinity and Success Study (VETWAYS), a three-year $556,000 project funded by the National Science Foundation, will seek to better understand the unique social experiences and challenges this special student population encounters as they progress through college and into the workforce.

While other studies conducted on student veterans show that social support is important to improving their college experiences, very little research has focused on the relationships that provide them with help, advice, camaraderie or guidance, according to Ross Benbow, the study’s principal investigator. “Social support has come up as a particularly important factor linked to college success in other studies of student veterans. Our work, which explores how social support connects with students’ college-to-career trajectories, is an important step in the progression of this research.”

Benbow says that student veterans in college face two unique sets of challenges. “Transitions into college from a military life marked by discipline, chains of command and a special unity of purpose can be incredibly difficult,” he explains, adding that feelings of isolation on campus, coupled with the many bureaucratic hurdles student veterans in college have to jump, can adversely affect persistence. “Veterans also are more likely to be from traditionally disadvantaged groups than other students, including first-generation students, students of color, and older and married students with more off-campus responsibility. Student vets are more likely to suffer from trauma due to military experiences than traditional students, as well.” These characteristics, the lead VETWAYS investigator points out, have been linked to lower college graduation rates.

VETWAYS staff will conduct research through surveys and interviews with students and educators from the Universities of Wisconsin—Madison, Milwaukee, Oshkosh and Stout.

Joseph Rasmussen, Veteran Services Coordinator with UW—Madison’s University Veteran Services, is an advisory board member for the new study. “I am thrilled about the Veteran Education to Workforce Affinity and Success Study. UW—Madison has a strong tradition of public service and research, and this study honors both,” says Rasmussen, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran. “I’m excited to see the positive real-world impacts these findings will hold for student military service members and veterans, as well as for professionals looking to serve them.”

Benbow agrees that VETWAYS can help college administrators and student services professionals—whether veteran coordinators, career counselors, academic advisors, faculty or other higher education practitioners—shape curricular and programming offerings to better meet the needs of undergraduate military service members and veterans.

“When you’re looking at higher education and the country’s future workforce needs, as my colleagues and I are doing, this is an incredibly skilled, capable and deserving group of students to focus on,” Benbow says. “Colleges and future employers should be competing over these students, so we’re excited to play a small part in better understanding and hopefully improving their academic and early-career experiences.”