Since the Post-9/11 GI Bill went into effect in 2009, VA has paid more than $38.9 billion in tuition and benefits to 1.16 million Veterans, Servicemembers and their families; and to the universities, colleges and trade schools they attend. Last November, VA announced it had certified the 1 millionth recipient of the Post 9/11 GI Bill, Steven Ferraro. In 2012 alone, there were more than 179,000 recipients of Montgomery GI Bill benefits and more than 646,000 recipients of Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits. Veterans are using their education benefits.
Monday, after a year of research and number-crunching, Student Veterans of America, in partnership with VA and the National Student Clearinghouse, released the first phase of the Million Records Project, a research initiative that aims to provide near real-time data that policymakers, service providers, institutions of higher learning and the general public can use to inform and shape policies, programs and products that support student veterans.
Among other things, the results of the study confirm two long-standing beliefs:
- Veterans are not your average students. Like many students they are hungry for success. Yet unlike their traditional peers, they often have family responsibilities or must hit “pause” on their education for deployments and other military commitments.
- America’s investment in its nation’s Veterans is paying off. Today’s Veterans are earning college degrees, entering the workforce armed with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in their respective fields of interest, and continuing to contribute to society in meaningful ways.
The study also digs into details about the journey of student Veterans through their academic life, including rate of completion, time-to-completion, highest degree attained, areas of study and more. Check out the details in SVA’s presentation, embedded below.
While the results of the project are incredibly valuable, what I am most excited about are the core beliefs that I see as roots of the project. First, data is valuable and under-utilized, and second, high-impact solutions must be driven by the needs of the people and communities they are being created for.
Ultimately, the Million Records Project aims to shape future policies and programs with data, and data-driven insights.
In other words: let’s create policies and programs that are driven by the actual needs of student veterans, rather than our assumptions of their needs.
This is something that likely anyone committed to improving the lives of veterans can agree on. This is also something that happens to be a core principle of human-centered design—an approach to design that values user needs above all, and is largely driven by research, data, testing, and iteration.
Policymakers, VA, VSOs, and institutions of higher learning may have their differences, but in this case they do have a shared mission: to help improve the lives of student Veterans. Each has its set of programs, services, and/or products to be delivered to or used by Veterans. With this in mind, one could perceive Veterans as customers. And to create products or programs (or policies) that have staying power, you must know you customer.
This may not be an earth-shattering revelation, but for those who know how stove-piped valuable information and data can be, this project helps illuminate the value of a complete 360 degree picture of our customers: student Veterans.