As the CEO of Student Veterans of America (SVA), connecting with student veterans is my priority. I’ve had the pleasure of engaging with this group of leaders across the country and visited over 240 of our chapters in 48 states over the past two years alone. In my travels, I find it striking that those who know and understand us call us “student veterans.” Those who do not, call us “veteran students.”
As our Vice President of Government Affairs Will Hubbard always reminds us, words matter. A veteran student can’t quite seem to get to graduation — a Van Wilder of sorts — who seems more inclined to be a student than becoming a graduate. A student veteran is dedicated to pursing a program of study in higher education, someone who at one point wrote a blank check up to and including their life by joining the military in service to our nation.
Why does the distinction matter? It matters because the way we talk about student veterans has a drastic impact on the perception of this talented population of scholars. There seems to be an unfortunately elastic myth that veterans don’t belong in college, one that employers, college administrators, faculty, and even veterans themselves too often believe. However, with nearly 1,500 SVA chapters, student veterans are part of the largest chapter-based student organization in the country. It’s safe to say we know about leading on campus and in the community.
When SVA published the National Veterans Education Success Tracker (NVEST) in the spring of 2017, we demonstrated that student veterans are definitively among the most successful students in higher education — no surprise to anyone who has interacted with these incredible Americans. Compared to the national grade point average (GPA) of 2.94, student veterans are markedly more impressive with a national average of 3.35; and they’re outpacing their peers and earning high-demand degrees. They’re graduating and moving into excellent career opportunities as outstanding alumni.
How awkward would it be to refer to “student athletes” as “athlete students”? No differently, student veterans are students first with ‘veteran’ as a proud part of their experience and identity. While student athletes have the NCAA, student veterans have SVA. We research, advocate, and communicate the success of student veterans, and wish veteran students well as they cross the stage someday. Student veterans are today’s scholars who will most assuredly become tomorrow’s leaders – let’s make sure we’re referring to them by the right title, they’ve earned it.
Jared Lyon is a Navy veteran and president and CEO of Student Veterans of America.