Military Learners Are Diverse, Face Unique Challenges
November 13, 2023

United States military learners have distinct ways of engaging in higher education, according to ACE’s new brief, which offers insight into who these learners are, how to help increase their use of available benefits, and how to improve their outcomes.

There are over 820,000 undergraduate military learners, which includes active-duty service members, veterans, Reserve members, and National Guard members. Data for this analysis are from the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). NCES data analyzed are from the 2019–20 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS:UG), a nationally representative sample of undergraduate students in the United States during the 2019–20 academic year.

The brief, Undergraduate Military Learners: Exploring Differences Between Military Learners’ Experiences in Higher Education, was authored by ACE’s Danielle Melidona and C. Emmanuel Wright.
One major conclusion drawn from the data is that no two military learners are alike—more than 50 percent identify as students of color; the average age when starting postsecondary education is 23 years; and 32 percent are first-generation college students.

Many of these students are balancing work, education, and home life—43 percent report having at least one dependent; 14 percent are single parents; and 56 percent are working full-time.

Also, military learners have unique education needs—half of students are pursuing a bachelor’s degree; 67 percent are enrolled at a school in their state of residence; and over 40 percent are attending exclusively online programs.

The brief concludes by offering some suggestions for the higher education sector, saying, “The data analyzed in this brief, which highlight the varied experiences of these students, should be a catalyst for addressing barriers to credential attainment while improving policy interventions and building programs that center the unique experiences of military learners.”

​Resources to support military learners

Maximize Military Learner Success with the ACE Military Guide

Getting Started with Credit for Prior Learning

FACTS IN HAND: Supporting Veterans Through the Post–9/11 GI Bill

Undergraduate Military Learners: Exploring Differences Between Military Learners’ Experiences in Higher Education