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Other Big Ten schools that shared the most detailed data were the University of Illinois, Penn State, the University of Iowa and Purdue University, and most painted a general picture of veteran success.

Tracking veteran students presents a number of challenges for universities, and there is no uniform method. The University of Minnesota’s pool includes those who self-identify and those receiving GI Bill benefits, so some may not be counted at all. GI Bill beneficiaries aren’t confined to veterans themselves either and can include family members and other dependents.

Most veterans are in categories often overlooked by university research and policies: those of nontraditional age, those going to school part time and those with mixed enrollment.

Additionally, GI Bill benefits have a 36-month limit. Because the VA uses financial awards for tracking purposes, Cate said, student veterans whose benefits run out before they graduate are counted as not finishing at all.

“There’s a difference between falling off the grid and quitting academia,” Cate said.

Bair said while the GI Bill’s time limit helps keep him focused on graduating within four years, it may be a downside to a majority of his friends who have changed majors during their college careers.

“There’s not really wiggle room,” he said.

Tours of duty interrupt or halt academic careers, too. Many reservists were called up to serve in Middle Eastern wars between 2004 and 2009, Cate said, and they could have lost all their credits. Since 2007, at least 45 active-duty University students interrupted their education to serve military tours of duty, according to One Stop, though the numbers only represent those who reported their departure to advisers and received a tuition refund.

Tracking how many veterans actually drop out can also be difficult.

“The problem is when people drop out, they do it very quietly and just disappear,” said Andrew Friedrichs, treasurer of the Student Veterans Association. “They don’t go around telling everyone.”

Nationally, there has been a push for more comprehensive and uniform tracking and transparency regarding educational services for veterans. In 2012, Congress passed the Improving Transparency of Education Opportunities for Veterans Act, requiring colleges to share more information about how they serve veterans, mostly in an effort to combat misleading, targeted marketing by for-profit colleges. Recently, proposed legislation that would require the VA to track veteran graduation rates died in House committee.

“Inconsistent methods of collecting such information has led to confusion about the completion rates of student veterans in higher education,” the Million Records Project report said, “and without strong, empirical data, the uncertainty will persist.”


Information from: The Minnesota Daily,