How can you make the most of veteran enrollment opportunities?

By Hawa Ahmed

Veterans represent a promising student demographic for COE units, as veterans often require an applied degree to facilitate their smooth reentry to the civilian workforce. Despite offering programs that appeal to veterans, such as business, management, engineering, and computer science, few COE units develop veteran-focused marketing strategies that position their programs to appeal to prospective veteran students.

Currently, four institutions enroll nearly 40% of all students who receive Department of Defense tuition assistance, which provides COE units with an opportunity to position their institution as one that serves veterans. COE units can use three strategies to attract a greater number of veteran students to their programs:

1. Offer bachelor's degrees in programs in high-demand fields with veteran-friendly employers

Employers across the nation continue to actively seek out veteran candidates. In early 2015, employers’ preference for bachelor’s graduates with military experience grew 25% faster than demand for all bachelors’ graduates. However, the United States Census Bureau reports that less than 30% of veterans hold a bachelor’s degree.

Because the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) must approve all credit-bearing education programs for military personnel, veterans have an easier time accessing military education benefits and other financial aid processes for credit-bearing programs, as opposed to non-credit programs. After 2011, the VA began to approve most accredited degree programs taught in an accelerated format. Our research shows that the VA approves new degree-granting programs in as few as four weeks, but it may take up to 18 months to receive approval for non-degree or non-credit programs.

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Job Postings that Indicate a Veterans' Preference and Require a Bachelor's Degree

Veterans' preferences for bachelor's degrees

Based on employer demand, educational attainment, and Department of Defense and VA regulations, our market research team has determined that bachelor's-level programs in business and related concentrations represent the most immediate opportunity to serve veteran students.

Pinpoint the fastest-growing jobs in your state using our State Market Demand Dashboard

Among the employers nationwide that indicate a preference for veteran applicants with bachelor’s degrees, most seek candidates with degrees in business related fields, engineering, and computer science. Moreover, over 25% of job posts specifically ask for veterans with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and management.

Top Bachelor's Programs of Study Requested by Employers with a Veterans' Preference

Top bachelor's programs of study

Since most business programs do not require resource-intensive lab equipment, institutions can develop low-cost, high-impact degree programs. Based upon an analysis of business-related degree completion, we concluded that “veteran-friendly” institutions typically provide undergraduate business programs in management, human resources, and operations.

Business Concentrations with the Highest Completions at Veteran-Friendly Institutions

Business concentrations with the highest completions at veteran-friendly institutions

Veteran-friendly employers typically look for candidates with a wide range of business administration skills, including project management, accounting, sales, and business development. Employer demand for supervisory skills and staff management align well with experience managing personnel, a skill that many veterans possess from their military service.

Top Business Skills Requested by Employers with a Veterans' Preference

Top bachelor's programs of study

2. Prioritize accessibility to financial aid

While there are many issues to discuss during the recruitment process, most veterans indicate cost of attendance as a primary concern. In order to address veterans’ concerns, administrators should highlight financial aid and tuition assistance offerings.

Provide timely support to help veterans (and all students) navigate the financial aid process

Because VA must approve all credit-bearing education programs for military personnel, veterans have an easier time accessing military education benefits and other financial aid processes for credit-bearing programs, as opposed to non-credit programs.

The GI Bill contributes up to $18,078 to eligible veterans to attend private institutions. Institutions can contribute up to 50% of the remaining tuition cost through the Yellow Ribbon Program. In addition, the Department of Veterans Affairs also offers to match institutional contributions. These combined contributions allow student veterans the opportunity to attend an institution with zero out-of-pocket expenses.

Financial Aid Options for Veterans

Veterans' preferences for bachelor's degrees

3. Align available programs with veterans' military experience

To ease their transition back to civilian life, many student veterans seek bachelor’s degrees that align with their previously held military positions or skill sets. Although many service members acquire professional skills and experiences during deployment, most employers still prefer or require external validation of those skills (e.g., academic degrees, certificates).

Successful COE programs should serve as a continuation of veterans’ military experiences. Program directors can increase marketing efficiency by advertising degree programs that directly relate to the positions typically held by active duty military personnel.

Registrars can also assist veteran students by awarding credits for military training. Programs interested in offering these additional credits can refer to state guidelines and recommendations from the American Council on Education Guide and the Evaluation of Educational Experiences in the Armed Services. Program directors can also provide elective credit for general military coursework and department-specific credit when possible (e.g., history credit for Military History).

Try a disciplined approach to online initiatives

Institutions of all shapes and sizes are investing significant sums to expand their portfolio of online and hybrid courses without specific institutional priorities in mind. Read this excerpt from our broader study, Online Course Prioritization Guide, to discover how closing specific curricular "gaps" can help your institution improve retention, reduce time-to-degree, regain or expand your share of currently enrolled student credit hours, or even attract new students to existing programs. Read the study excerpt.

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