Introducing SVA Spotlight | Brief 1 : Demographics

By Vice President of Research Chris Cate, PhD


As the leading organization serving veterans in higher education, we regularly receive questions about this community. “Who are student veterans?” “What percentage are female?” “How many are married or have families?” and so on. These are difficult questions to answer because there are few demographics connected with veterans in higher education.


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There are several reasons why this is the case, but the main reason is that individuals have to self-disclose their military history in order to be counted. It makes it difficult to gather demographics, or data in general, when you do not know who are or are not military veterans.  

Without current, robust demographic data on student veterans, assumptions about the student veteran population can form and persist. This limits the ability for policy makers, stake holders, and the public to obtain an accurate portrait of student veterans.  

SVA Spotlight is an effort to fill in the gaps of existing databases and provide basic demographic information on student veterans to institutions, organizations, and the public. Data was collected through the use of an online web survey sent to Student Veterans of America chapter leaders (President, Vice President, etc.), chapter advisors, on-campus veteran center directors, and school VA certifying officials; who also had the option of forwarding it to other student veterans or military connected students. The result was a sample size of 1,352 student veterans, producing a margin of error of approximately 2.8 percent using Department of Veterans Affairs GI Bill population data.

The results from SVA Spotlight 2016 provided further evidence on student veterans’ non-traditional student status as well as further demographic details. They confirm many things we believe about student veterans, but also provide new insights about them.

The first example is the age of student veterans. It is widely assumed that student veterans leave the service in their late 20s and early 30s and begin college. Results from SVA Spotlight 2016 appear to support this, but the results also show a large group of retired military service members retiring from the service in their 40s and enrolling in college.

Other results include a larger proportion of female student veterans in comparison to the current percentage of female service members, and an indication that student veterans from current military operations (Operation: New Dawn and Operation: Inherent Resolve) are joining OIF and OEF student veterans on campus.

SVA Spotlight 2016 helps us begin to answer questions related to the diversity and demographics of student veterans. It shows that student veterans still add not only racial and ethnic diversity to college and universities classrooms, but also diversity that comes from world experiences due to military service, and life experiences from being older compared to traditional students. Future posts and briefs will continue to demonstrate this diversity.


Download the full research brief.


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