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Military-Connected Undergraduates: Exploring Differences Between National Guard, Reserve, Active Duty, and Veterans in Higher Education

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Military-Connected Undergraduates: Exploring Differences Between National Guard, Reserve, Active Duty, and Veterans in Higher Education

December 30, 1899

​In recent years, the enactment of the Post-9/11 GI Bill® and the ongoing drawdown of military personnel from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have contributed to substantial growth in the number of service members and veterans who use their educational benefits to enroll in college. Consonant to the growing presence of military-connected individuals on campuses across the country, institutional leaders and other individuals actively involved in supporting military-connected individuals are deliberating next steps in policy and practice to support the postsecondary success of service members and veterans.

But our nation’s effort to support military-connected students is tempered by an insufficient understanding of this diverse student population. Only recently, for example, have researchers begun to document the time service members or veterans may take to complete a degree. What is more, the higher education and stakeholder communities are without sufficient evidence of how demographic characteristics and service backgrounds might intersect with the college experiences and outcomes of these students. Through a clearer empirical lens, the higher education and stakeholder communities can build and affirm strategies to support military-connected undergraduates in ways that reflect their needs and characteristics. To this end, leaders in higher education and other stakeholders can use existing and powerful analytical tools to enrich our nation’s understanding of these students.

In this report, we break important ground toward a more inclusive understanding of military-connected undergraduates by using U.S. Department of Education data from the 2011–12 academic year to disaggregate various military personnel (i.e., members of the National Guard, reservists, and active duty personnel) from veterans to examine points of difference on demographic and economic characteristics, as well as on key factors associated with college enrollment, persistence, and completion.

We present this report to build upon the understanding that the higher education and stakeholder communities have about the diverse characteristics of military-connected undergraduates. Further, we seek to encourage leaders to examine the extent to which current policy and practice reflects the diverse needs of today’s National Guard members, reservists, active duty personnel, and veterans in postsecondary education. Central to this mission is the need to inform discussion among institutions and external partners on areas where new practices and policies are needed. Finally, we call upon researchers to frame studies that build a more nuanced understanding of military-connected individuals in relation to their fluid and evolving college goals, pursuits, and outcomes. Through a more inclusive narrative, leaders in higher education can design more focused approaches to support the access and success of military-connected students.​​


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