A Salute to Mobile Technology

“For the country to succeed, this generation of veterans has to succeed.”
John Schupp, Professor, Tiffin University in Ohio.

Military service men and women dedicate their lives to protecting our country.  Once their tours of duty are over, many use educational benefits to help with the transition back to civilian life. However, the shift from battlefield to classroom is hard for many, causing college dropout rates for veterans to soar.

testThe establishment of the GI Bill by President Roosevelt in 1944 helped former GIs reach many previously unattainable goals such as a college education, training, guaranteed home & business loans and unemployment pay. Nearly half of all WWII veterans participated in a training program or earned a college degree.

Today’s college experience, however, is quite different from the post-WWII era.  The culture, social aspects and classroom landscapes have changed drastically.


Attrition: The Challenges of Retaining Veterans

Active duty or deployed service members are trained to be ready for any task, meet deadlines and adapt to a mobile lifestyle; characteristics that would, presumably, lead to successful college completion. However, a 2012 article stated that almost 88% of Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans were expected to drop out because they feel isolated and frustrated in an alien culture.  Service members live in a command/control environment full of strict schedules, dress codes and camaraderie. They are trained to “stay in the box.” It’s understandable that a higher education culture might leave veterans feeling out of place, given that there is considerably less dictated structure than in their military experience, as well as differences in age and experience from traditional-aged students.

With fewer veterans in the classroom today than post World War II, the social dynamic has changed causing a lack of camaraderie which can lead to alienation. “Veterans transition easier when they are in a social climate that is similar to their background” said Nick Root, civilian graduate from The Citadel – The Military College of South Carolina. Veterans coming into college are older than 24 and may have families.

In February 2013, Dr. Neal Raisman published a paper discussing attrition in higher education.  He listed four main factors that students named as reasons for dropping out: college doesn’t care, poor service and treatment, not worth it and schedules weren’t flexible.  When any student drops out, it is a lose-lose situation.  The entire blame should not go on the students.  Colleges should provide an end-to-end system to ensure that veterans and civilian students accomplish their goals of earning a college degree.

While on-campus programs help veterans tremendously, providing them a range of solutions both on- and off-campus is vital to veteran retention.  This is where mobile technology can help.

How Can Mobile Technology Help Today’s Veterans?

Smartphones and tablets are quickly replacing traditional books, paper and pencils. They are portable and easier to use. Students already rely on mobile devices outside of academics and also depend on them to support their studies.  The advance in mobile technology has rapidly changed the way students learn, communicate and interact. For mobile users who enable push notifications, a 3x higher retention rate is seen compared to users who disable push.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) uses mobile technology to improve healthcare and enhance the patient experience for veterans.  The VA knows mobile has greatly impacted the healthcare industry and is determined to keep up with emerging technology. And, since veterans are becoming used to this type of mobility, it will be a logical transition to offer mobile solutions for education.

Due to exploding mobile adoption, University of Texas at San Antonio adopted a mobile-first strategy. They developed an app that unifies campus life with their enterprise systems to provide students an authentic mobile experience.  This means delivering content within one solution rather than having the students search for content throughout multiple solutions. The app can send out targeted push notifications to specific groups, set up personal dashboards for daily schedules, provide multi-role functionality, alert a student about a financial hold, allow a student to buy textbooks for an enrolled class and a student can save an event to their device’s calendar.

These mobile services can specifically help veterans.  Since vets are used to being externally told about schedules, a daily dashboard is perfect to keep them on track. Using multi-role, schools can create a veterans role to deliver unique content to them and track detailed analytics to understand their activity and interests better.  In fact, Owens Community College in Ohio also sees the value in mobile. OCC is mobilizing priority registration for veterans to ensure that they can enroll in classes even on the go to avoid missing their time slot.  If there was a hold on an account, an alert is immediately sent via push notification to prevent them from being dropped out of a class. The administrative functionalities of the app allow for civilians and veterans to stay informed and prepared.

From enrollment to graduation, retaining veterans is vital but preventing attrition is just as important. The combination of on-campus and digital resources can be higher ed’s arsenal for helping more veterans succeed in college and become acclimated to their new environment.

For schools, who have high veteran attrition rates, consider a mobile app especially in today’s technologically advanced world. A unified solution like UTSA’s and Owen’s can help keep vets engaged, organized and on track to graduate.

About the author:

Whitney Whitney Malone is a mobile strategy consultant, millennial and staff writer for DubLabs’ blog.  She enjoys helping higher ed use innovative mobile apps that can help improve and enhance students college experience.