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Supporting Military-Affiliated Students

Military-affiliated students, staff and leaders at UC San Diego (2017)

Learn about military-affiliated students at UC San Diego, and how best to support them.

Defining the Population

At UC San Diego, we define “Military-Affiliated Students” as any student who is currently serving, contracted to serve, or previously served in the armed forces for any nation, or a student who is the immediate family member of a current or former military service member.

We use the general term “student veterans” to include all current and former military service members, and “military family members” to include all students who are family members of military service members and veterans.

We also use the term “ROTC cadets” to include students who are contracted to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces via the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program. It is helpful to note that not all students enrolled in ROTC programs are under a military obligation or contract; for our purposes, we are only referring to contracted ROTC participants when we include this population under the category of “military-affiliated.”

Statistics

UC San Diego's Military Affiliated Students

Statistics on UCSD's military-affiliated students

In 2016-17, UC San Diego enrolled about 1,300 military-affiliated students, including over 400 service members, ROTC cadets, and veterans.

 

 

Approximately 3/4 of UC San Diego's student veterans are undergraduates, and 1/4 are graduate students. Nearly all of the undergraduate students are transfers.

 


Most undergraduate student veterans are enrolled in Social Sciences (34%), Engineering (21%), or Biological Sciences (15%).

Characteristics and Barriers Unique to this Population

Student veterans are typically older than traditional college students, and are more likely to be in a long-term relationship, married, or have children than traditionally-aged students. Student veterans are almost exclusively transfer students, typically attending several colleges over an extended period of time prior to completing a baccalaureate degree. Many student veterans continue to work or serve in the military on reserve status while enrolled in college. Student veterans tend to be highly focused, hard-working, and self-disciplined, and thus many veterans tend to do very well academically. However, gaps in preparatory coursework that result from transferring can pose a significant, and common, barrier to learning. Besides the distractions of work and family, other success barriers that are common to this population include depression, anxiety, addiction, hypervigilance, recently-acquired physical disabilities, post-traumatic stress or traumatic brain injuries, social reintegration challenges, self-identity crisis, and a “culture shock” that is unique to the difference between military culture and academia. Student veterans are typically well-traveled, have excellent teamwork and diplomacy skills, and have significant prior work experience that may or may not relate to their current course of study or future career path, bringing a wealth and breadth of experience into classroom discussions.

Military family members include spouses/significant others, who are usually transfer students and typically older than their peers, but also include the children of active-duty service members and military veterans. These students tend to be traditionally-aged and in many ways much more similar to their peers than student veterans, but with the added maturity and life-perspective of someone with a global upbringing and a very personal understanding of sacrifice and separation. Many of these students have loved ones currently serving in war zones or have responsibilities as caregivers for someone who was permanently injured in military service. Some students are survivors of someone who is missing, captured, or was killed in action. Some students are also victims of abuse from “secondary PTSD” when their family member struggles with mental health issues. All of these challenges, while relatively uncommon, pose significant barriers to academic success.

ROTC cadets are traditionally-aged students, typically “native” rather than transfer students, and are usually juniors or seniors when they contract. They are the same as their peers, except that they are required to complete a rigorous military science, leadership, and physical fitness program in addition to their full-time academic program. They have extensive military training requirements in the summer, during academic breaks, and on weekends. They are usually hard working and intrinsically motivated, but have not yet had the life experience that comes from military deployment.

Best Practices to Support Military-Affilliated Students

UC San Diego uses a three-pronged approach to supporting military-affiliated students, fostering programs that encompass the transitional, social, and academic needs of the community.

Transitional needs include the transition from military to civilian life, from a community college to the university, from undergraduate to graduate studies, from able-bodied to disabled, from one major to another, and so forth.Students often need assistance securing housing, childcare, enrolling in classes, finalizing their financial aid and VA benefit paperwork, getting disability accommodations set up, and generally getting started. Paradoxically, the same “mission-focused” strategy that helps student veterans succeed in the classroom often limits their success with long-term planning, so students typically need additional coaching around career planning, graduate school preparation, and so forth.

At UC San Diego, transitional support programs include early outreach to prospective students, orientation and onboarding for new students and their families, peer mentoring, and rotating in-center counseling hours from various campus departments.

Interested staff and faculty can help support students’ transitional needs by:

  • Appropriate referrals to campus and community resources
  • Providing appropriate advice for long-term planning
  • Providing a safe space for students to disclose their needs and concerns if they feel comfortable doing so

Social needs of military-affiliated students are often related to the culture shock and identity crisis that is common for recently-separated veterans, and include the needs of belonging, friendship, self-identity, self-acceptance, self-sufficiency, peer-acceptance, and interpersonal relationships.

At UC San Diego, programs that help meet these needs include the Student Veterans Resource Center (SVRC), which is a safe space to help students decompress, reintegrate, and build a social support network, peer mentoring programs, student veteran organizations and support groups, psychological counseling, military-specific campus events, and cultural diversity programs for the general campus community.

Interested staff and faculty can help support the social needs of this community by:

  • Fostering opportunities for student leadership, networking, and engagement
  • Learning about military culture and identity
  • Normalizing some of the issues that all students face

Academic needs of military-affiliated students include recognizing and closing gaps in prior learning, obtaining appropriate academic advice related to course sequencing and load, long-term degree planning, and age-appropriate tutorial assistance.

Many veterans are quick to recognize their own academic deficiency, but are reluctant to go to the campus tutoring center to get help from a much-younger student. UC San Diego works to meet these needs by providing adequate group and quiet study space in the SVRC, connecting students with academic advisors in the colleges and departments, helping students navigate online resources and interpret their degree audits, and by informing new students about what to expect in terms of academic rigor and load.

Interested staff and faculty can help support students’ academic needs by:

  • Helping them identify learning gaps and suggesting appropriate study materials
  • Providing study space and fostering study groups
  • Providing timely academic advice
  • Providing additional learning materials when appropriate

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