Alex Hatfield, political science major, sinks a pushpin into the island of Sicily. The glossy, laminated map, pinned to the wall of the Veteran Services rec room has many, each indicating where Boise State student-veterans have been stationed. The U.S., middle east and southeast Asia are riddled with small, plastic bulbs—each color indicating what branch the individual served in. Lori Sprague, coordinator for the campus Veteran Services estimates that Boise State has as many as 1,200 students that are veterans.
The VA gives disheartening statistics. In a study conducted from 2001 to 2009, veterans were reporting having “some college level education” at higher rate than the civilian population, but underperforming the civilian population in graduation rates—for every year recorded. In spite of the G.I. bill, veterans are failing to attain their bachelor’s degrees. Whether the cause is an inability to acclimate to civilian life, PTSD, or the complications that accompany being a non-traditional student, a statistical gap exists between civilians and veterans in graduation rates. The Peer Advisors for Veteran Education hope to close this.
Based out of the University of Michigan, PAVE functions as an outreach program that allows veterans in college to form internal communities of support. It has a presence on 42 campuses across the country, and in 2016 Boise State was chosen to be a participating partner with the program, which includes instruction on how to run the program to be as effective as it can.
“They bring us out to Michigan for their training every year, and they pay for that, so that was pretty invaluable I think,” Sprague said.
Sprague went on to say that it was also beneficial to talk with representatives from other schools already participating in the program to find out what works to serve campus veterans best.
“The goals of PAVE are to increase the retention of student veterans and increase the success rate of student veterans,” Hatfield said.
The program offers solutions for an array of issues that can interfere with a veteran’s ability to complete college.
The VA also provides alarming statistics about the increasing rates of veteran suicide. Between 2001 and 2014, the suicide rate among veterans grew by 32.2 percent. For this reason, PAVE works on making its support of members more personal than typically found in college assistance programs.
“Think of us as academic advising, without the word academic. We take a holistic approach to your experience at Boise State or as a student. We go over things like ‘How’s your family doing?’ When’s the last time you sat down with an academic advisor who’s asking that?” Hatfield said.
In addition to the support that comes with being part of a community, PAVE seeks to assist veterans in everything from finding childcare solutions to fit around class schedules to rectifying problems with financial aid. If the program can’t solve the issue itself, it puts its members in-touch with people that can.
Nicholas Carter, material science major, runs PAVE with Hatfield and Sprague. To him, there are very specific reasons why veterans are graduating at lower rates.
“You find a lot that when veterans come to college out of the military, they don’t feel connected to the campus. You have an age gap, you have an experience gap and you have an interest gap, so you go from being in a tight-knit community to being in a community where you don’t really feel like you belong sometimes,” Carter said.
The relationship that PAVE has with campus veterans is relaxed and informal. The program largely relies on networking and word of mouth to encourage students to reach out. Some students contact the group through their advisors, some through email and some in person. Carter said that, although face-to-face interaction is the preferred method of advising, any form of interaction with the group can be helpful.
To stress the importance of community and comradery, the members of PAVE have hosted events as well, including a parents’ night out to alleviate stress during finals and a holiday pot luck last year. The group intends to have more events this year.
Anyone interested in learning more about PAVE can visit their office in the Veteran Services Center or can inquire about it with their academic advisor.