Do We Send Students to College too Soon? [Lessons from Vets on Campus]

The local university where I teach part-time has made a special and quite successful effort to welcome veterans on campus. My veteran students are a bit older than my “just out of high school” first year students. After several years of service, they’re taking advantage of the educational benefits the military provides.

I have to say vet college students are a mighty impressive bunch. They actually read the syllabus. They show up, do the work, and write thoughtful essays. For the most part, they’ve developed career goals they’re eager to pursue and see the clear relationships between their education and the future they envision for themselves. As one student told me in a recent conference, “I really appreciate your helping me with my writing. I’m going into criminal justice, and I’ll have to write reports all the time. They better make sense!”

I’ve thought a lot about why my veteran students seem more “together” on the whole than my eighteen and nineteen year old freshmen students. Maybe it’s simply a matter of maturity and life experience. Their brains are more developed, and their synapses undoubtedly more connected. Plus, they’ve experienced a good deal more of life away from the comforts of home and family than my younger students. And of course the military demands discipline, follow-through, and focus, all handy skills to have in the classroom.

But there may be another factor as well. So many of my younger students are not only holding jobs to help pay for college, but are also taking on sizable, anxiety-producing debt. Compared to my veteran students, they have less time and energy to focus on their studies and spend a lot more time worrying about money.

All of this has really made me wonder. What if we’re sending our students to college too soon with too much financial stress? What if we instituted a non-military community service corps for newly minted high school graduates? We certainly have tremendous needs in our country in every sector that could benefit from an infusion of youthful energy and time. And this would help college-bound students. For every year of completed service in the corps, they could earn a year of college tuition and living expenses.

I’m certainly not the first to propose something like this, but I think it’s worth considering. The vets in my classes demonstrate the value of going to school when you’re a bit older, wiser, and less freaked out about footing the bill for a college degree.

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