Student Veterans of America (SVA) is the premier organization leading service, research, programs, and advocacy for veterans in higher education. Learn more about who we are, what we do, and why it matters.
Since the founding of Student Veterans of America (SVA), our community of Chapter Leaders has consistently sought to increase accessibility to higher education and positive outcomes for those following in their footsteps. This Chapter Guide is a culmination of more than a decade of feedback and insight on the tools, techniques, and tactics to manage a successful and sustainable student veteran organization, what we call an SVA Chapter, at your campus. This guide is designed to elevate the experience of veterans and military-affiliated students in higher education and enhance the long-term outcomes of being engaged with SVA. Chapters are the heart of SVA, and we hope to see you excel in your service to your fellow students and your campus community.
With strong leadership and the proper tools, we have seen new Chapters become prevalent on campus and existing Chapters enhance their commitment to excellence. The task of a Chapter Leader is no small challenge, but your reward will be immense. It is impossible to reference all that encompasses your leadership role in this guide, but we hope it will aid you as you build a foundation for success. Here are a couple notes to help you understand this Chapter Guide:
- When we say “university,” we mean any higher education institution. You may also notice that we say “college,” “school,” or “institution.” We use all of these interchangeably.
- This guide provides many recommendations but no prescriptive actions. How you operate your SVA Chapter is your decision, so long as you are following the rules and guidance for registered student organizations set by your university.
It is our sincere hope that you feel more prepared to be an effective leader for your chapter after reading this guide and implementing best practices therein. Your dedication to serving the student veterans, military-affiliated students, families, and allies who make up SVA is inspiring.
As your knowledge of our organization and your responsibilities grow, we hope you will provide us with feedback for those who are just beginning on this journey. Thank you for your commitment and service as a leader in this global organization, and as an engaged leader in your community.
Student Veterans of America (SVA) is the premier organization leading service, research, programs, and advocacy for veterans in higher education. Our mission is to act as a catalyst for student veteran success by providing resources, network support and advocacy to, through, and beyond higher education.
Through a dedicated network of more than 1,500 on-campus chapters in all 50 states and three countries overseas representing more than 750,000 student veterans, SVA inspires yesterday’s warriors by connecting student veterans with a community of like-minded Chapter Leaders. Every day these passionate leaders work to provide the necessary resources, network support, and advocacy to ensure student veterans and military-affiliated students can effectively connect, expand their skills, and ultimately achieve their greatest potential.
SVA National Headquarters, located only a few blocks from the White House in Washington, DC, oversees the provision of programs and services that empower student veterans to succeed to, through, and beyond higher education by focusing on the unique life cycle of student veterans. These include Regional Summits, the Leadership Institute, the National Conference (NatCon), Washington Week, Veterans of Foreign Wars-SVA Legislative Fellows, scholarships, and other annual offerings.
In order to reduce barriers to success, SVA’s team of legislative and policy experts oversee advocacy efforts including preserving the integrity and evolution of the GI Bill. As a data-driven organization, SVA’s research arm collects, analyzes, and interprets data from national partners as well as institutions and chapters, and then tells the story of our nation’s most talented group of college students: today’s student veterans.
The history of student veteran organizations on college campuses began long before SVA’s founding in 2008. A helpful place to start in recounting this story is near the end of World War II when President Franklin Roosevelt signed into law the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, otherwise known as the G.I. Bill of Rights.
After demobilizing, returning veterans of WWII flooded colleges and universities around the country like never before in American history. Not only did these student veterans face basic challenges associated with reintegrating into civilian life, but schools were unprepared for this influx of students, which lead to additional problems for student veterans such as severe housing shortages and a lack of transitional assistance. Student veterans banded together, forming peer-to-peer support networks to overcome these challenges, build community, and earn their college degrees.
But did you know that this ‘GI Bill idea’ almost never made it out of Congress? In fact, there were some who said this new program would be ‘the ruin of the veterans of World War II’ as they returned home to the United States after the guns of Europe and the Pacific fell silent.
The President of Harvard famously penned at the time, “We may find the least capable among the war generation, instead of the most capable, flooding the facilities for advanced education in the United States.” Further, the then President of the University of Chicago—a World War I veteran himself—argued, “Colleges and universities will find themselves converted into educational hobo jungles.”
By 1947, just a few years after that original opposition, there were many retractions; for example, Benjamin Fine of The New York Times wrote that “The G.I.s are hogging the honor rolls and the Dean’s lists; [student veterans] are walking away with the top marks in all of their courses. Far from being an educational problem, the veteran has become an asset to higher education.” Even the President of Harvard eventually stated, “for seriousness, perceptiveness, steadiness, and all other undergraduate virtues,” the student veterans of World War II were ‘the best in Harvard’s history.’”
This was just the beginning of a long, continuing legacy of exceeding expectations. Throughout the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, veterans continued to transition to campus following their military service, albeit in smaller numbers. The revised Montgomery G.I. Bill was offered as a recruitment incentive for the all-volunteer force. Some of the local student veteran groups that formed on campuses after conflicts in Korea and Vietnam, like those at Northern Illinois University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, still exist today.
Following the attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States declared the global war on terror and a new generation of Americans was called to arms during a time of war. As veterans of the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) returned home to pursue their education using GI Bill benefits, they found that their campuses did not provide adequate support services to assist student veterans as they worked towards their educational goals. As adult learners, many of these student veterans found campus turned to each other through on campus student veteran organizations and clubs to find solutions to the challenges they encountered.
The advent of social media made it possible for these initial leaders to assemble on their own campuses and across the country for the first time. They began to share best practices and success stories, providing support to one another to strengthen their community. Members from 20 independent student veteran organizations formalized this grassroots movement and Student Veterans of America was officially born on January 23, 2008 following our first National Conference in Chicago, Illinois.
Concurrently in 2008, SVA and a number of Veteran Service Organizations were tirelessly advocating for an overhaul of the Montgomery G.I. Bill to address the needs of 21st Century student veterans. Six months after SVA’s founding, President George W. Bush the Post 9/11 G.I. Bill into law. Since then, our mission has remained focused on providing programs, resources, and advocacy to the ever-evolving network of local student veteran organizations that we call SVA Chapters.
One common thread throughout this mission is inclusivity. While military status often plays a pivotal role in a student’s experiences, it is not an exclusive identity. As veterans transition back to civilian life, their identity tends to shift to that of a student first and foremost, along with the wide variety of individual experiences very student brings to the classroom. SVA has consistently sought to expand its role in national and global conversations impacting first-generation students, minority students, adult learners, non-traditional students, students with disabilities, and many other identity groups. We strive to be one of the most inclusive student organizations in the world.
In the years since the founding, SVA has grown its membership from our 20 Founding Chapters in 2008 supported by a small volunteer staff to over 1,500 Chapters representing over three-quarters of a million student veterans in 2020 with a National Board of Directors, Executive Team, and full-time staff. The primary functions of your National Headquarters include our departments focused on supporting you as a Chapter Leader, including Programs & Services, Research, Government Affairs, Communications & Marketing, and Development. Today, SVA is the premier organization for veterans in higher education, inspiring tomorrow’s leaders to achieve their greatest potential. Learn more about our history.
What We Do
When SVA was founded in 2008, we were primarily an online community for advocacy and sharing best practices. We spent over a decade developing our expertise within the veteran and higher education nonprofit space with a long-standing dedication to advocacy at all levels of government. We conducted first-of-its-kind research to tell the story of veterans in higher education and produced high caliber, data-driven programs and services to empower student veterans who participate in their Chapter. Below is more detail about each of these focus areas.
The mission of the Government Affairs Department is to shape policy and regulations on behalf of veterans in pursuit of career advancement through higher education. The team works closely with Congress and the federal government to promote forward-looking policies and to help veterans attain the education needed to thrive in their careers and communities. Our robust policy work focuses on a myriad of issues and preparation of analyses for a wide variety of matters that impact veterans in higher education.
As subject matter experts on higher education and veterans’ policy, Congress and senior government officials frequently call on SVA to deliver testimony. SVA achieves a high level of influence through consistent interaction with Congress, relevant organizations and associations, industry leaders, and others concerned with proposed and pending policies. As a result, SVA representatives are regularly called upon to testify before Congress. The team frequently provides testimony regarding topics such as the GI Bill, the Transition Assistance Program, student debt, the Veteran Success on Campus program (VSOC), predatory higher education practices and institutions, and many others.
The team provides cabinet-level advice and influence on the creation and improvement of the GI Bill Comparison tool, economic opportunity, VA work-study, childcare for student veterans, agreements with the Federal Trade Commission, and numerous proposals affecting the Post-9/11 GI Bill. We remain connected closely with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Department of Education (ED), Department of Labor (DoL), Department of Defense (DoD), Small Business Administration (SBA), and other federal agencies to affect change impacting the lives of student veterans across the country.
Strong ties with relevant committees in the House and Senate emphasize SVA’s bipartisan agenda. The team works at every level within the Executive Branch, from the on-the-ground program manager through cabinet-level decision-makers. Beyond this, issues that arise at the state and campus level are supported by your National Headquarters, and Chapter Leaders are encouraged to engage with our Government Affairs team for support regarding any policy issue.
A great example of this work was showcased through the team’s efforts on the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act, more commonly known as the “Forever GI Bill,” legislation that was signed into law with unanimous bipartisan support in 2017. SVA lead a coalition of more than 60 organizations to secure the largest expansion in VA education benefits in nearly a decade. The Forever GI Bill included major reforms such as removal of the 15-year limit on GI Bill benefits for those who separated on or after January 1, 2013, expanded benefits for Purple Heart recipients, included the Edith Nourse Rogers STEM scholarship, and additional access to high-tech certification programs.
More recently, SVA advocated for the passage of the Ryan Kules and Paul Benne Specially Adaptive Housing Improvement Act of 2019, which expanded Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) eligibility for blind and seriously injured veterans. SVA has also closely monitored the impacts of COVID-19 on student veterans since March 2020. Immediately following campus decisions to move to a virtual setting, the team led advocacy on the passage of several pieces of emergency legislation to protect GI Bill benefits during the shift to virtual instruction. Our ability to directly respond to needs and concerns like these is often directly informed by Chapter Leaders, formally though our Policy Liaison Program.
The Policy Liaison Program (PLP), an open network of dedicated, policy-focused student veterans and allies who engage in advocacy campaigns. The team seeks to educate and inform student veterans on the many ways available to them to pursue policy goals at the campus, local, state, regional, and federal levels. More importantly, the team values feedback and input from this network of student veterans. As a result of this, SVA has been successful in fighting for dozens of proposed policy improvements submitted from student veterans who participate in the program.
The Research Department works to inform the public, stakeholders, policy makers, and others on the topics and concerns of student veteran and military-connected students through empirical research. In 2014, in partnership with the National Student Clearing house (NSC) and the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA), SVA published the Million Records Project (MRP), a groundbreaking report conveying the postsecondary academic outcomes for one million Post 9/11 student veterans to use GI Bill benefits. In the spring of 2017, SVA leveraged the same partnerships and published the National Veteran Education Success Tracker (NVEST). Focused on the first 854,000 student veterans to use the Post 9/11 Gi Bill, NVEST demonstrated definitively that this generation of student veterans succeed in college at rates above their traditional college peers.
SVA employs surveys and program evaluations for data collection and service improvement. The team conducts a census web survey annually and the Veterans Opinion Survey during election years. The team also works closely to develop success metrics and measure outcomes for our Programs and Services and ensures the results of this work are available and accessible to Chapter Leaders
SVA enjoys a multi-year grant from the PwC Charitable Foundation, Inc. in support of the Life Cycle Atlas. This three-year research initiative explores the decision-making process for separating service members, with the intent of identifying potential opportunities and barriers to a successful transition from military service through college and into the workforce. The ongoing outcomes of this project are available on studentveterans.org, a continuously updated collection of data visuals that enumerate the unique paths of thousands of veterans as they separated from the military, pursued higher education, and entered new careers post-graduation.
Programs and Services
The Programs and Services Department provides tangible Chapter-building and veteran-empowering experiences for Chapter Leaders and Chapter Members that reflect the mission of SVA. While the programs and services offered by SVA have continually evolved due to direct feedback from students, the basis of these programs is rooted in what is referred to as “the lifecycle of the student veteran.” This lifecycle begins with the decision to separate from military service and continues through success in a meaningful and impactful career, where a connection is maintained with SVA as a member of our Alumni Network.
SVA Programs and Services include a wide variety of training events and opportunities focused on effective management and outcomes. Our programs, or Chapter training events, are intentional in their design to impact Chapter development as well as the personal leadership development of Chapter Leaders. We focus on professional development, leadership training, networking opportunities, scholarship funding, and opportunities to form genuine and meaningful relationships with other Chapters to strengthen the ties of our global network.
- The SVA calendar begins in early January with the National Conference (NatCon), the largest annual gathering of Post-9/11 veterans in the world and an exceptional opportunity to learn from academic, policy, industry, and peer experts. The purpose of NatCon is to reframe the possible for veterans, to train on topics salient to our chapters, and to convene student veterans, military-connected students, and their allies as well as SVA stakeholders. Attendees navigate breakout sessions, keynote presentations, and exhibitions alongside thousands of their peers. Additionally, SVA’s corporate partners and other professionals connect with student veteran attendees on our SVA Campus, or exhibit hall, to provide guidance on internships, research, graduate education, and careers.
- Washington Week, held for one week each spring, is an invitation from your National Headquarters to Chapter Leaders to join SVA executives and staff in an experiential learning program designed around veteran education policy. Attendees join SVA in their annual testimony to the Joint House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees, advocate to members of Congress, participate in policy symposiums, and influence decision-makers.
- Regional Summits, held every summer, are the definitive experience for planning and building a world-class SVA Chapter. They provide Chapter Leaders with the tools, techniques, and tactics to manage a successful and sustainable student organization. The curriculum for the Summits has been designed to deliver strategic planning and role-specific training. The regional design of this program intentionally allows attendees to connect directly with others within the same region for coalition building, organic network building, and peer-support.
- The Leadership Institute is an immersive leadership program that prepares students to affect change stretching beyond their SVA chapter and campus. Each fall, the top 100 Chapter Leaders are invited to your National Headquarters in Washington, D.C. to participate. This is the premier student foundational leadership experience in the country, where participants are identified through a highly competitive application and selection process. It is a four-day, personal core values-based leadership immersion program with intentional and innovative curriculum. Many of the nation’s top leaders provide mentorship to attendees throughout this experience, including members of the press, Congress, White House officials, and others.
- Chapter Consultations are provided throughout the year. Whether Chapter Leaders are facing difficult decisions, seeking guidance on steps to build a better Chapter, are experiencing difficulties in navigating university administration, or even want to share a success stories, Chapter Consultations are an opportunity to engage one-on-one with SVA staff.
- Finally, several select SVA partners have created financial assistance packages in the form of scholarships to assist student veterans in meeting the financial requirements of post-secondary education. Many student veterans bring responsibilities traditional students don’t experience with them to school, and often have financial needs beyond the supports of the GI Bill. These scholarships alleviate stressors associated with that financial need to allow student veterans to focus on their education.
The list of programs and services continues to grow and evolve as data, feedback, and impacts are collected and analyzed. The strategic direction of the Programs and Services Department is intended to accommodate the lifecycle of the student veteran and the Chapter, where design and implementation of new curriculum is modeled in alignment with our mission.
The more than 1,500 Student Veterans of America Chapters represent over three-quarters of a million student veterans currently earning a degree or certificate in post-secondary education. These student veterans and military-affiliated students are tomorrow’s leaders. The transition to, through, and beyond higher education is, without a doubt, within the capabilities of these highly trained and qualified students who have been instilled with the core values of the military. SVA’s role in this transition is to reduce barriers, provide opportunities, build community and empower student veterans to achieve their greatest potential.
Student veterans can be successful in college even if they dawn blinders leading straight from admissions to graduation, especially if the only metric for success is graduation. By removing those blinders, building community, and engaging with a Chapter that is matured through SVA programs and services, supported by SVA advocacy, and backed by SVA research, student veterans can exceed their assumed potential to take part in a transformative experience like none other, tailored to their lived circumstances and curated to their individual needs.
Of the 45 Presidents of the United States, 26 have served in the U.S. Military, and 96 veterans are currently serving in the U.S. Congress. About eight percent of Fortune 500 CEOs served in the military. Veteran households in the U.S. are economically better off than non-veteran households. Finally, student veterans graduate at higher rates and with higher GPAs than their peers. These facts make it abundantly clear that veterans are not the broken, as often depicted in the media. While there are many with greater needs because of the scars borne from battle, SVA has recognizes the abilities, talents, and brilliance that are natural to veterans, because they are vetted through one of the most stringent qualifying processes in the world.
SVA’s mission has been one of elevation and empowerment, where great women and men returning from service are civic assets. The veterans who are currently experiencing the transformative power of higher education will soon be leading top governmental agencies, non-governmental organizations, and companies, including you. SVA’s impact from the support of Chapter engagement through individual leadership development will be felt in the innovation, passion, and brilliance of their leadership.
- Bylaws. An established, written collection of rules and procedures that Chapter Leaders follow to ensure efficient, fair, and sustainable operations.
- Chapter Member. someone who has met criteria set by the Chapter affording them the benefits of membership.
- Chapter Advisor. A faculty/staff member of the university (or college, or school) that holds a formal status within the organization, providing counsel and guidance on behalf of the university.
- Chapter Leader. Any member of the Chapter that serves, in any capacity (elected, appointed, or neither) to lead other members of the Chapter or otherwise steps into a role outside of the traditional, participatory member role. Chapter Leaders may also be referred to as “officers” (see below).
- Chapter Officer. A specific Chapter Leader who holds one of the elected or appointed leadership positions within the Chapter.
- National Conference. Held annually, SVA’s NatCon is the largest annual convening of Post-9/11 veterans in the world. Often refered to as “NatCon”.
- National Headquarters. The office located in Washington, D.C. in which the executive leadership and their staff execute their roles to support our Chapters and our mission.
- Philanthropy. A charitable fundraiser or service project sponsored by Chapter.
- SVA Alumni. Any former student veterans, military-affiliated students, supporters, or allies who choose to identify as members of our community after graduation.
- SVA Chapter. A local group affiliated with the larger global organization, commonly designated by the University (college/school) name affixed to SVA (i.e., “Chapter of State University”). To be considered a registered SVA Chapter, the group must be a registered student organization on campus and maintain current contact information with National Headquarters.
- SVA Leadership Continuum. A series of core annual programming and events that support and enhance the growth of chapters and individuals designed to transform the SVA Experience into personal and professional success.
- SVA Liaisons. Chapter Leaders who focus their time in one of three key areas in support of student veterans and military-affiliated students.