VA Education Benefits: VA Needs to Improve Program Management and Provide More Timely Information to Students

VA Education Benefits: VA Needs to Improve Program Management and Provide More Timely Information to Students

by U.S. Government Accountability Office
     
 
VA provided nearly $10 billion in education benefits to almost 1 million veterans and beneficiaries in fiscal year 2011. The majority of these benefits were provided through the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which in 2008 established what has since grown into VA's largest education program. This report examines: (1) what challenges, if any, veterans face pursuing higher

Overview

VA provided nearly $10 billion in education benefits to almost 1 million veterans and beneficiaries in fiscal year 2011. The majority of these benefits were provided through the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which in 2008 established what has since grown into VA's largest education program. This report examines: (1) what challenges, if any, veterans face pursuing higher education; (2) how VA supports student veterans on campus; and (3) to what extent veterans are achieving successful academic outcomes and how VA uses data on student outcomes to improve its education benefit programs. To address these topics, GAO reviewed existing government studies and scholarly research on veterans' educational challenges, services, and outcomes; reviewed VA's strategic planning documents; interviewed officials from VA, Education, higher education associations, and veteran service organizations; and conducted focus groups with student veterans and interviewed school officials at 11 postsecondary institutions. Student veterans face many challenges pursuing higher education, and problems with the Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) administration of the Post-9/11 GI Bill create financial challenges that also affect veterans' academic success. Veterans already cope with challenges transitioning into college as nontraditional students (older or with family obligations) while they are readjusting to civilian life and potentially managing disabilities. However, veterans and school officials told GAO that delays in VA benefit payments create financial challenges for veterans that threaten their ability to pursue higher education. These delays led many veterans GAO spoke with to take on personal debt to cover their housing expenses or consider dropping out of school. VA has taken steps to reduce processing delays, and GAO previously made recommendations to address these issues. However, VA provides limited information about benefit processing timelines and payment policies to student veterans prior to enrollment, which can leave them unprepared to deal with these payment delays. In some cases, these delays also made it difficult for veterans to access other sources of federal grants and loans since some schools are reluctant to distribute this aid to students until after tuition and fee payments are received from VA. VA provides limited direct support to veterans on campus, and schools are generally building their own veteran support services without any assistance from VA. VA has initiated the VetSuccess on Campus pilot, which provides veterans on 32 campuses with direct access to VA counselors who help them connect to services. VA also offers counseling and funding for academic tutoring to eligible student veterans. The Post-9/11 GI Bill has also sparked rapid growth in student veteran enrollments, and schools have reported concerns about the challenges of supporting this emerging population. VA recognizes the need to leverage partnerships with stakeholders to better support veterans, but has not sought opportunities to disseminate information about best practices for supporting veterans that would help schools more effectively build their own on campus services. It is unclear the extent to which veterans are achieving successful academic outcomes, and VA lacks a plan for using student outcomes data from its new data collection efforts to improve its education programs. Current data on student veteran outcomes are outdated or incomplete. VA is coordinating with Education and the Department of Defense to develop additional outcome measures and has multiple efforts to collect new data on student veterans, including a study that will track Post-9/11 GI Bill beneficiaries over the next 20 years. However, VA does not yet have a plan to use these data to improve program management. These data could provide VA with a tool for assessing the effectiveness of its education benefit programs in facilitating student veterans' academic success. GAO-13-338

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781491007723
Publisher:
CreateSpace Publishing
Publication date:
07/15/2013
Pages:
62
Product dimensions:
8.50(w) x 11.00(h) x 0.13(d)

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