A new report has found that students associated with the military form a broad and diverse socioeconomic category, but that a greater number are at risk of facing negative life circumstances associated with not completing a college education when compared to their non-military counterparts.

The report, by ACE and NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, breaks important ground toward a comprehensive understanding of military-connected undergraduates by using US Department of Education data from the 2011-12 academic year to emphasise differences among college students with a connection to the military.

The study’s primary focus was on examining demographic and socioeconomic qualities, along with key factors associated with college enrolment, persistence and completion.

The first key finding researchers took away from the study is that America’s military-connected undergraduates are diverse, both demographically and economically.

Researchers found that one third of National Guard members (33%) and reservists (31%) in college were women, while roughly one in five active duty members (22%) and veterans (21%) in higher education were women.

Furthermore, nearly half of active duty individuals (48%) and reservists (47%) were racial or ethnic minorities, or multiracial.

The study also notes that National Guard members currently in college possessed the highest average income (USD$47,503), relative to reservists (USD$34,937), active duty personnel (USD$35,413) and veterans (USD$30,538).

The report also discusses how previous research (Perna and Jones, 2013) uncovered family income as one of the strongest predictors of college enrolment and institutional choice, even after accounting for demographic background and academic ability.

A second key finding of the study was that a vast majority of military-connected students applied for, and received, financial aid, but that the sources of financial aid varied depending on the student’s military background.

According to the research, reservists were the most likely among military undergraduates (68%) to receive VA (Veterans Affairs) or DoD (Department of Defense) education benefits, compared to less than half of National Guard students (46%) who received the same funding. The study also found that not all those students who earned benefits actually put them to use.

One of the most interesting findings from the study, however, is focused on the number of life circumstances related to not completing a college education.

Researchers have established seven risk factors that may negatively impact the post-secondary persistence and attainment of military-connected students, including: delayed college enrolment; no high school diploma; part-time college enrolment; being financially independent; having dependents; being a single parent; and working full-time whilst enrolled at college.

This report is the first to scrutinize the risk factors that specifically effect undergraduates with military connections.

More than 60 percent of active duty undergraduates were identified as having four or more risk factors associated with not completing college, compared to 44 percent of veterans, 37 percent of reservists and 30 percent of National Guard members who had four or more of these risk factors.

The report states: “Although many of these students possess the strengths to persist to completion, barriers that coincide with managing life and responsibilities lead to departure from higher education without credential.”

Following a meeting with student veterans and campus-based professionals working directly with military-connected students in areas like student affairs, counselling and admissions in February this year, a final assembly is arranged for early 2016 that will discuss possible principles and best practices to serve America’s military undergraduates.

Image via Shutterstock.

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