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Posted at 12:00 PM ET, 11/16/2010

Veterans, struggling students need more college support

By Jay Mathews

There is no better gauge to what is happening on U.S. college campuses than the National Survey of Student Engagement. It is full of surprises. (My all-time favorite: having a helicopter parent is GOOD for your academic experience, NSSE discovered.)

This year, based on forms filled out of 362,000 students on 564 campuses, the survey finds that the kinds of students I thought would be getting the most help---military veterans and new students in trouble---are often getting the least.

Veterans study just as much as non-veterans, the survey found, but they interact less with faculty and perceive they get less campus support than non-veterans. This is not good, since their lives tend to be more stressed---they are more likely to be working for money, more likely to have family responsibilities and more likely to be disabled.

Beginning students "who were at the bottom half on self-described preparation for college and in the top half on anticipated academic difficulty" were a special problem, NSSE (usually called "Nessie") revealed. The twist was they rated the importance of academic support services, like tutors and advisors, LOWER than their better prepared and more confident classmates. The students most in need of help were the least likely to think they needed it.

"This argues for not just better outreach, but more efforts at early detection and intervention in cases of potential academic difficulty," said James S. Cole, project manager for a companion to NSSE, the Beginning College Survey of Student Engagement.

I was once a veteran on campus. I remember the time spent worrying about how I was going to pay for the education I was getting--GI Bill support was not great. I worried about having enough time with my wife, also a student. Much of the academic work was more challenging than I was accustomed to. What saved me was that I was at a graduate school attached to the college I had attended, so I knew some of the professors and could seek their help.

Few veterans will have that advantage. Like many students new to college, they need more help than they are getting. Research shows that graduation rates are better at colleges that have the most advisers to help students over rough spots. This should be at the top of every campus's agenda.

By Jay Mathews  | November 16, 2010; 12:00 PM ET
Categories:  Jay on the Web  | Tags:  James S. Cole, National Survey of Student Engagement, colleges with the most active advisor programs often have the best graduation rates, new students in trouble the most likely to think they don't need support, veterans say they are getting less support  
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