More than half of college graduates – 54 percent – who are veterans of military service said they are thriving financially, according to a Gallup and Purdue University analysis released Wednesday. Only 43 percent of non-veteran graduates felt the same way, representing the widest margin in the five elements the study used to measure general well-being.
The disparity represents a somewhat startling divide between those who have volunteered to go to war and those who haven’t – one stemming in part from what's known as the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which updated federal benefits that support service members who want to go back to college.
The Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008 covers most tuition fees and other expenses like books for veterans. It's caused the number of veterans going back to school to soar, and exposed that some universities are ill-prepared to take in these nontraditional students.
The benefits available to veterans mean many may not have to take out student loans, or at least to the extent of their civilian counterparts. The Gallup study, based on recent surveys, showed 65 percent of service members and veterans borrowed no money for their education, compared with only 52 percent of non-service members who did.
But veterans having to spend less time in the financial aid office is not necessarily the entire reason for the gap.
“High financial well-being is achieved through the careful management of one’s economic life,” the study said. “Those with higher financial well-being have less stress and increased financial security.”
There is, however, still room for improvement: Only 28 percent of service member and veteran graduates strongly agreed that financial education benefits available to those like them are sufficient for attaining a good degree, the study showed. That number was much higher – 55 percent – for those who'd accepted Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits than for those who sought some other form of assistance.
Military graduates' social well-being also exceeded that of civilians, with 56 percent versus 50 percent thriving. Sixty percent of grads with military experience also were thriving in terms of purpose, compared with 53 percent of their civilian counterparts.
“Individuals with high social well-being have supportive relationships in their life, with strong emotional connections to individuals who they can rely upon during difficult times – an important factor for many military service members and veterans returning from service," the study said.
“The strong bonds between service members during and after service may help explain the higher social well-being among these graduates," the report said.The report was based on recent surveys of more than 30,000 respondents with at least a bachelor's degree, including more than 3,700 with military experience. It also exposed some of the differences in how service members view academia.There were smaller differences between veterans and more traditional college graduates in how they perceived both their community and physical well-being – the other two metrics the study analyzed.
Forty percent of those who were still in uniform while attending college believed their school understood their unique needs as a veteran and accommodated them with special facilities, clubs or offices tailored to them. That number dropped to only 25 percent of those who had completed their service before entering college.
“These data suggest colleges and universities have more difficulty demonstrating a strong grasp of the issues that returning veterans face upon enrollment in postsecondary institutions,” the study said.
In many cases, size may have something to do with it. Large universities of more than 10,000 students were less likely than smaller institutions to have veteran graduates who felt their school understood them, according to the study. It also found those who attended private colleges felt a greater sense of understanding there than those at public schools