The Higher Ed Workplace Blog

Veterans in the Higher Ed Workforce: Insights From Veterans and Hiring Managers

This blog post was contributed by Drexel King, manager of learning and development at Baylor University and alumnus of CUPA-HR’s Wildfire program for early-career higher ed HR professionals.

Transitioning to a new job can be tough for many people, but this transition can be especially difficult for the nearly 300,000 veterans that enter the U.S. workforce each year. According to a 2014 report from VetAdvisor and Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families, nearly half of all veterans leave their first post-military job within a year, and between 60 percent and 80 percent leave before their second work anniversary.

As hiring managers, supervisors and HR professionals, we are in a unique position to help ease the transition for veterans joining our workforces, thereby increasing the odds that they’ll stay.

My Story

I was that transitioning service member several years ago, facing the daunting task of trying to convince civilians why I deserved a spot in their community. I spoke a different language (military abbreviations), and resume writing and interview training were not a learning objective throughout any of my military schooling. My mission in the military world to “locate, close with and destroy the enemy by fire and maneuver, or repel the enemy assault by fire and close combat” was not exactly transferable … unless I wanted to become a mercenary or a CIA agent.

Fortunately, after I spent several months seeking out and accessing all the military-to-civilian-life transitioning resources I could find, I landed a job in human resources at Baylor University. Soon after, I was introduced to CUPA-HR, and last year, I was selected to participate in CUPA-HR’s Wildfire program.

As part of my capstone project for the program, I surveyed 100 veterans, hiring managers and supervisors from colleges and universities across the U.S. in an effort to learn more about the perceptions and experiences of veterans in the higher ed workforce, with an eye toward using these findings to further the discussion around attracting and retaining ex-service members in the higher ed workplace.

Although my survey was limited in scope, its findings provide food for thought.

The Numbers

  • More than half of the veterans surveyed have worked in higher ed for three to 10 years.
  • Eighty-six percent of the veterans surveyed feel higher education is an encouraging place to work for veterans, citing things such as:
    • “Making a difference and training tomorrow’s leaders.”
    • “The opportunity to give back and help the next generation. It’s another way to serve the nation.”
    • “Potential for career advancement.”
    • “Work-life balance.”
    • “The opportunity to take classes and use university resources.”
    • “Lack of turnover in this industry in comparison to private industry and manufacturing.”
  • Approximately 83 percent of survey participants said it takes up to two years to adjust to the higher education setting.

A Positive Work Experience

Transitioning from service, many veterans question how much their military experiences will be acknowledged or appreciated … or counted against them. Many fear that coworkers and supervisors will automatically associate their military experience with a certain political view, will have presumptions about PTSD or their service in general, or will downplay their service commitment.

However, the data I’ve collected indicates that those are outlier situations and experiences, and not the norm in the higher education setting. Of the supervisors and hiring managers I surveyed, the vast majority affirmed that the following statements are “somewhat true” to “very true” about the veterans they’ve encountered:

  • Veterans engage in leadership experiences early in their career, specifically with regard to people management and operating with large budgets.
  • Teamwork is inherent and ingrained into their military experience, which increases group competitiveness toward mission accomplishment and excellence in the organization.
  • Veterans work with diverse cultures in intimate settings that make most service members very comfortable with diversity and inclusion.
  • Veterans are often self-motivated and can operate with little supervision.
  • Veterans typically have a strong sense of core values that can help frame and center a department or organization.

Military Service as an Organizational Asset

While I plan to continue my research into and conversations around veterans in the higher ed workplace, the anecdotal data I’ve collected thus far show that veterans transitioning to the civilian workforce can bring with them unique insight, transferrable skills and different perspectives on how to get the job done.

With that in mind, recruiting, engaging and retaining veterans should be part of every higher education institution’s talent management strategy.

Additional Resources
CUPA-HR Essentials Videos: Supporting Veterans in the Higher Ed Workplace and Transitioning Veterans Into the Higher Ed Workplace
Hiring Veterans Toolkit in CUPA-HR’s Knowledge Center
Unlock the Potential of Aging Workers and Veterans With Disabilities


The CUPA-HR national office will be closed July 4 in observance of Independence Day.