MSNBC investigates why 88 percent of veterans who enroll in college drop out after their first year.
Imagine your life being constantly under threat, some looming and semi-anonymous enemy who doesn’t care if you have a family or dreams for your future always just sort of waiting to kill you. You survive perhaps because of luck, and perhaps because of your ability to be highly intelligent, hyper-aware and to have quick reflexes. Most likely because of both. Perhaps you even saved others.
When you are ready to re-enter the “real” world of the United States, you find a gap between yourself and everyone around you.
MSNBC offers a glimpse into life for many returning combat veterans who wish to attend college. They profile one man, Navy Corpsman Lucas Velasquez, who survived two 6-month stints in Afghanistan. When he came home, he attended Columbus State University in Georgia:
Velasquez hadn’t been in a classroom for more than five years. Instead of taking strategic lecture notes or studying highlights in the syllabus when prepping for exams, he scribbled nearly every word his professors uttered and tried to absorb every fact in his textbooks. Deeper, there was a vast cultural chasm between other freshmen and the survivor of multiple firefights and risky missions.
“At 19, I was in combat as opposed to trying to go find a party,” said Velasquez, injured before he came home. “They really don’t realize how precious life can be, how it can go away in the drop of a dime. They’re more worried about what they’re going to be wearing to school tomorrow, or the spring break that’s coming up. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just two different people.”
The article also talks about how hard it can be for those who are experiencing PTSD to maintain concentration in the classroom. But Velasquez attributes his struggles to the different ways in which universities teach and the ways in which the military teaches:
“I didn’t know how to study,” Velasquez said of his first months at Columbus State. “In the military classes (we had taken), they spoon fed you everything because they didn’t want you to fail. It was a struggle going from a structured lifestyle to one where everything is on you.”
For those returning for war, it must be a struggle to have to play catch-up with teenagers.
Or, as one retired non-commissioned officer who attends UCD summed up the challenges of the veteran-college experience and high dropout rate: “I was the man in the military. We had so much responsibility [overseas], people’s lives were on the line. Now I’m sitting next to an 18-year-old and I’m struggling to keep up with him in this class.”
What do you think of this high rate of college failure for returning veterans?
How can we, as a society, better help our veterans succeed in the things they wish to pursue?
Photo of armchairs in a room courtesy of Shutterstock.