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Military Transition Programs Focus Too Much on Higher Education, Not Enough on Jobs, Rand Report Says

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Federal programs used to help service members transition into civilian life are too focused on education and are not spending enough money and time working toward finding them employment — and some seemingly aren’t effective at all, according to a new study.

The new report published this week by Rand Corp., a federally funded think tank focused on military issues, takes a deep dive into how the roughly $13 billion spent annually on helping service members transition out of the ranks is used and whether it’s effective. It found redundancies and issues — namely, that the programs focus too much on higher education.

“Overall, we find that very few programs focus on military-to-civilian employment transitions. Specifically, little support is dedicated to helping service members and veterans translate their military skills to the civilian labor market,” the report details. “In fact, nearly all the money for career assistance programs, as defined by [the Government Accountability Office], is spent on upskilling, retraining or education programs.”

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This revelation also comes at a time when undergraduate college enrollment has become less popular and has declined notably in the last 10 years or so, by about 15% between 2010 and 2021, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

“Dedicating significant portions of the transition budget is also unsurprising because of the high

and growing costs of college,” Rand researchers said. “However, many veterans want or need to move directly into employment.”

The researchers also raised concerns over whether the programs are doing what they are supposed to do. For instance, the Defense Department’s Transition Assistance Program, or TAP, had a negative effect in some cases.

“There is virtually no evidence that any of the programs we examine have had a direct effect

on transition outcomes,” according to the Rand report. “In some cases, the evidence is counterintuitive; for example, the large, interagency TAP, which is overseen by DoD, is associated with lower wages for program participants.”

Rand looked at 45 programs, ranging from major initiatives such as the Post-9/11 GI Bill; Veteran Readiness and Employment run by the Department of Veterans Affairs; DoD’s Tuition Assistance Program; and VA Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance, as well as a host of smaller ones.

It determined that “oversight is weak across all 45 programs” and found that there “are numerous redundancies in available transition programs and services.”

Overall, researchers recommended there be more oversight and accountability for those programs, and even suggest Congress get involved in sorting out some of the financial information.

“The U.S. government should mandate consistent and routine budget reporting for all programs that support military-to-civilian transitions,” the researchers wrote. “There is a need for policymaker intervention to require agencies to standardize their budget and performance reporting.”

Rand’s report comes on the heels of several GAO reports probing various aspects of the transition assistance programs.

A December 2022 report from the GAO said the Transition Assistance Program lacked timely participation, revealing that “nearly 25% of service members who needed maximum support didn’t attend a mandatory two-day class” and that “most service members didn’t start the program at least one year before leaving service, as normally required.”

Related: Military’s Transition Program Riddled with Issues, Report and Veterans Say

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