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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Post-9/11 Military Veterans and Higher Education: Factors Associated with College Enrollment and Choice

  • Author(s): Molina, Dani
  • Advisor(s): Chang, Mitchell J
  • et al.

Even though post-9/11 veterans now have access to college funding that increases their purchasing power and postsecondary access through the Post-9/11 GI Bill, it is unclear what factors will lead them to pursue a higher education. Historically a majority of veterans will not use their VA education benefits. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' National Survey of Veterans show that on average only 39 percent of all veterans in the U.S. will use their earned postsecondary benefits after leaving the military (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 2001, 2010). This is troubling given that earning money for college is one of the primary reasons cited for enlisting in the military (Eighmey, 2006; Woodruff, Kelty, & Segal, 2006; Zinger & Cohen, 2010) and the financial resources are available through various VA education programs.

This study examined key factors that led post-9/11 veterans to enroll in higher education. A central focus of this study was to identify key factors that explain why a majority of veterans enter two-year and for-profit institutions instead of four-year institutions after leaving active duty. This study used data from the Education Longitudinal Study (ELS) of 2002, which is publicly available through the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). First presented was a descriptive portrait of veterans who did and did not enter college, as well as a description of veterans at two-year, for-profit, and four-year institutions. Second, a logistic regression analysis was used to answer the first research question, which sought to examine factors related to veterans' college enrollment. Finally, a multinomial logistic regression was employed to respond to the second research question, which explored key factors that predict veterans' attendance at two-year and for-profit institutions compared to four-year institutions.

The final logistic regression results showed that veterans' educational expectations and the number of friends who planned to enter four-year institutions during high school (peer plans) were the most significant predictors of college enrollment among veterans, even after accounting for gender, race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status (SES), highest math taken in high school, and high school urbanicity. The multinomial logistic regression found that, once veterans' demographic characteristics, high school context, and other factors are controlled for, the highest math taken and educational expectations are the best predictors of enrollment into two-year colleges. Moreover, the multinomial logistic regression results shows that veterans' enrollment into for-profit colleges compared to four-year institutions is also best explained by the highest math courses taken in high school, even after accounting for gender, race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status (SES), educational expectations, peer plans, and high school urbanicity. These findings have implications for policy development and practice at various levels. Given the lack of empirical research on student veterans, this area also needs further research.

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