Executive Summary



Old Friends and New Faces

Home Alone? Applying Theories of Transition to Support Student Veterans’ Success

A Model for Supporting Student Veterans’ Transition


Commentary from Nancy K. Schlossberg

What Matters to Veterans? Peer Influences and the Campus Environment

The Military Bond

Inputs, Environment, and Outcomes

Inputs, Environment, and Outcomes for Veterans

Peer Group Supports and Influences

Summary and Recommendations

Commentary from Alexander W. Astin

Transition 2.0: Using Tinto’s Model to Understand Student Veterans’ Persistence

Transition and Preentry Attributes

Goals and Commitments

Initial Institutional Experiences

Transition 2.0: Academic and Social Integration

Transition 2.0: Academic and Social Integration with the Campus Community

Career Services and the Student Veteran

New Goals and Intent to Persist

Critics of Academic and Social Integration


Commentary from John M. Braxton

Crisis of Identity? Veteran, Civilian, Student

Identity Development and Knowledge of Self

Self and Others

Multiple Roles and Intersecting Identities

Crisis, Exploration, and Commitment

Multiple Dimensions of Identity



Commentary from Linda Reisser

Women Warriors: Supporting Female Student Veterans

Enduring Effects of Male Turf: Gender and Assumptions

Mothers and Warriors: Care and Justice

Into a College Environment: Developing a Voice

Help Seeking: Learning to Cope

Marching Together: Summary

Commentary from Margaret Baechtold

Ideas for a Self-Authorship Curriculum for Students with Military Experience

Classes for Veterans

Meaning Making and Self-Authorship

Concept Mapping for Curriculum Planning


Commentary from Marcia B. Baxter Magolda

Institutional Response to an Emerging Population of Veterans

EFA Factor One—Financial Matters

EFA Factor Two—Administrative and Strategic Planning

EFA Factor Three—Advising and Career Services

EFA Factor Four—Psychological Counseling Services

EFA Factor Five—Veterans Office on Campus


Concluding Thoughts

Appendix A: A Veteran’s essay

Appendix B: Example Syllabus


Name Index

Subject Index

About the Authors

About the ASHE Higher Education Report Series

Recent Titles


Advisory Board


The ASHE Higher Education Report Series is sponsored by the Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE), which provides an editorial advisory board of ASHE members.

Ben Baez

Florida International University

Edna Chun

Broward College

Diane Dunlap

University of Oregon

Dot Finnegan

The College of William & Mary

Marybeth Gasman

University of Pennsylvania

Shouping Hu

Florida State University

Adrianna Kezar

University of Southern California

Kevin Kinser

SUNY – Albany

William Locke

The Open University

Barbara Tobolowsky

University of Texas at Arlington

Susan B. Twombly

University of Kansas

Marybeth Walpole

Rowan University

Executive Summary

According to an American Council on Education report in 2008, as many as 2 million students with military experience will take advantage of their education benefits and attend postsecondary institutions in all sectors of higher education during this decade. This “nontraditional” population, known as student veterans, includes those who have exited the armed services and those who still have military ties. They bring life experiences that few traditional-age students or, for that matter, faculty members, campus staff, or administrators can relate to or claim for themselves. These men and women are veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and many of them have faced war-related trauma—fierce combat, roadside bomb explosions, physical or psychological injuries, and the deaths of their comrades. As this unique population of students continues to grow on campuses across the nation, professionals in higher education, including those serving in central administration, academic affairs, and student affairs, are increasingly interested in understanding more about these students and helping them succeed.

Higher education has a rich history of assisting special populations such as first-generation attendees, minorities, and students with disabilities in achieving academic success. Following World War II, record numbers of war veterans enrolled in colleges and universities using educational benefits from the original GI bill. The impact that millions of new college students had on American higher education was unprecedented, and tremendous growth in postsecondary institutions occurred during that era. Today, generous benefits associated with the post-9/11 GI bill make attending college after war service an attractive option. The all-volunteer, modern military looks much different from what it did after World War II. Women account for more than one in seven service members, and because of advances in technology and medical care, the number of veterans who have survived physical trauma has increased dramatically. How can campus personnel best assist these students? One place to start is to familiarize oneself with the issues student veterans face.

This volume is intended to provide useful information about students with military experience who are attending college by blending the theoretical, practical, and empirical. We use some of the best-known theories and research in the literature on higher education as comfortable starting points from which to investigate the phenomenon of the veteran attending college. For example, we call upon Astin’s well known I-E-O research framework as a tool for describing inputs, environmental factors, and outcomes associated with student veterans. This approach is particularly useful when considering Astin’s findings on peer interactions and the strong peer bond that many students with military experience have as well as the types of supports that institutions can provide as positive environmental factors. Astin also provides a brief commentary on the topic.

Throughout this monograph, other frameworks and theories, particularly from the literature on college student development, from recognizable names such as Baxter Magolda, Braxton, Chickering, Schlossberg, and Tinto, are used. In some instances, we contacted the major theorists themselves, and they generously contributed their thoughts about student veterans. In other chapters, experts who have written on the subtopics presented in the chapters offered their ideas in areas such as persistence and departure, student development, and women’s issues. The expert contributions strengthen the information provided for the reader and are to be used to integrate student development theory in planning programs and services for this population.

To inform the reader, we draw from the first “wave” of research on this topic of college students with military experience, much of it conducted over the past five years or so since 2007. Most of the work published in that period is qualitative, including research from the authors of this monograph. One report, From Soldier to Student: Easing the Transition of Service Members on Campus, published by the American Council on Education in 2009 and featured in this volume, is one of a few larger-scale, quantitative research projects to date and provides findings at the institutional level. Ultimately, we hope this book will inform the next wave of research, particularly longitudinal studies of persistence and student success, which are now possible as veterans matriculate year by year on their collegiate journeys.

Information about contemporary issues and best practices is addressed throughout the pages of this publication. For example, ideas about providing transition assistance and courses designed to help student veterans deal with the future (and the past) are presented. We introduce the reader to a unique subpopulation of women veterans and reveal some of the challenges they face, including military sexual trauma and higher rates of posttraumatic stress disorder than their male counterparts. Moreover, the latest statistics about how many of our military men and women have physical disabilities, invisible psychological injuries, or both, are alarming, and we raise questions about how prepared campus disabilities offices and counseling centers are for the increased numbers of student veterans who will require accommodations and assistance.

Drawing from information provided in this monograph and other sources, higher education professionals who possess a fundamental understanding of the issues faced by the student veteran population can provide sorely needed assistance in the transition to college, persistence at the institution, and degree attainment.


Just this morning I awoke to NPR coverage of “soldiers coming home” to Pendelton, Oregon, after 400 days in Afghanistan. The story highlighted the transition to home and the many paths people take after serving in the military. One of these paths is to higher education. In many ways these students are just like any other—eager to learn, looking for next steps, and wanting to prepare for the future—and in other ways they are quite different. They tend to be older and based on their military background these students have a significant amount of worldly experience—some of which can have been quite traumatic. Many student veterans face challenges with the transition back to their families, U.S. culture, and into higher education. Often challenges colleges and universities and their staff are ill-equipped to address. While many campuses have some type of veterans programs and military support services, faculty and administrators are often at a loss when it comes to meeting the needs of student veterans. Students with military experience often have a background that is distinct from other student groups. Campus personnel want to do the right thing to help facilitate the transition and success of students with a military background, but it’s not always clear what the right thing is.

David DiRamio and Kathryn Jarvis in this monograph, Veterans in Higher Education: When Johnny and Jane Come Marching to Campus, provide some of the necessary background and information colleges and universities can use in their work with student veterans. The monograph draws upon practical, theoretical, and empirical literature about students with military experience to provide readers with comprehensive and thought-provoking information. The authors take an interesting standpoint by merging theory and practice in their presentation of information. The manuscript goes beyond mere description of students or best practices, by drawing upon different areas of student development theory to provide a foundation for working with veteran students.

The monograph offers a very unique approach by not only using the literature and research generated by student development scholars such as Nancy Schlossberg, Alexander Astin, Vince Tinto, Linda Reisser, Margaret Baechtold, John Braxton, and Marcia Baxter-Magolda, the authors also talked with these scholars as a way to gain insight for how to use particular theories with veteran student populations. The personal approach to link theory and practice provides the readers with the opportunity to hear personally from scholars and how they see their theories applied to particular students. This approach is not only helpful to think in new and different ways about veteran students it is also a unique vantage point to see links between theory and practice. Often researchers and practitioners make links between different theoretical perspectives and particular areas of practice or to particular group of students, but the conversation takes place metaphorically between texts. The presentation in this monograph is unique in that readers hear personally from the theorist and how their particular strand of theoretical work can be applied to better meet the needs of veteran students even though much of the student development research has not been applied to veteran student populations. Hearing from the theorists directly helps the readers think critically about how theory can be used to inform practice. It’s easy for student affairs practitioners to overlook theory in their every day work because they don’t see the relevance or they are not sure of how to make connections. DiRamio and Jarvis help readers see how to make the connections by using different areas of literature and by having those who generate the research provide commentary.

The authors have been very comprehensive in their approach to the topic of veteran students They provide sufficient historical information to guide readers in addition to looking at the transition of veteran students to higher education, peer interactions and the campus environment, veteran student persistence, identity development for veteran students, and self authorship and curriculum. In addition the authors address issues associated with gender, an increasing area of interest, and provide an overview of institutional responses to student veterans. The book is comprehensive in its synthesis and analysis of current literature and practice.

As colleges and universities strive to address the needs of students with military experience, DiRamio and Jarvis’s work provides important and useful information about student veterans. They provide readers not just with a list of best practices; they more importantly prompt their audience to think creatively about how to use what we know about students in general and how our best understanding of students can be used to aid the transition, learning, development, and success of student veterans.

Kelly Ward

Series Editor


We are so fortunate to have input from a number of colleagues and particularly want to thank the expert scholars or old friends, Alexander Astin, Margaret Baechtold, Marcia Baxter Magolda, John Braxton, Linda Reisser, and Nancy Schlossberg, who graciously offered insights and commentary about theory and practice as they relate to the population of student veterans.

We are especially grateful for the helpful comments and support offered by Kelly Ward and our reviewers. Their careful reading and suggestions have helped make the manuscript stronger.

Our work has been fueled by the tenacity and passionate struggles of many of the student veterans who will persevere and find their way as they strive to achieve the goal of a college degree. We hope this volume will aid administrators, student affairs personnel, faculty, advisors, and others as they welcome these men and women to the academy.

David DiRamio thanks Penny Barnes for proofreading and editorial advice but, more important, for her dedication and support. He also praises Roberta DiRamio, his mother, for a lifetime of love.

Kathryn Jarvis wishes to thank her colleagues for their endless support, candor, and willingness to listen to what she thinks, just one more time. She also wants to give kudos to her father’s still fine-tuned editorial skill at ninety-two years and his unerring ability to let her know when she might want to phrase it differently. And, of course, to Lucy, Jake, and John, who still make her laugh.

Old Friends and New Faces

A POPULATION OF STUDENTS is emerging on college campuses across the nation. In some ways they are just like other college students, particularly those considered “nontraditional” such as transfer students and adult learners. In other respects, however, they possess unique characteristics stemming from personal experiences that few college administrators, faculty members, campus staff, or traditionally aged students can claim for themselves or, perhaps, empathize with and relate to. The group we are referring to are students with military experience, including those who have served on combat duty in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Student veterans—those who have exited the armed services and those who still have military ties—are entering colleges and universities in increasing numbers. If you have not noticed them on your campus, it is likely you will (and soon). Thanks in part to generous educational benefits earned while serving their country, they are indeed coming to higher education, perhaps as many as 2 million students in the near term (American Council on Education, 2008). Are we, the higher education community, including those of us in central administration, academic affairs, and student affairs, ready to welcome student veterans into postsecondary education and assist them in achieving success?

This volume is intended to provide useful information about students with military experience who are attending college by blending the theoretical, practical, and empirical. As student veterans, like typical college students, navigate through the academic system, the challenges faced can be better understood if we can adapt and integrate student development theory in planning programs and services for this population. The “old friends” referred to in this introduction include some of the best-known theorists and theories in the literature on higher education. Iconic names such as Astin, Baxter Magolda, Braxton, Chickering, Schlossberg, and Tinto (and others) provide a comfortable starting point from which to investigate the phenomenon of veterans attending college. In some cases, we contacted the major theorists themselves, who generously contributed their thoughts on the topic. In other instances, experts who have written on the subtopics presented in the chapters offered their ideas in areas such as persistence and departure, student development, and women’s issues. Each contributor was initially contacted by telephone or e-mail and asked to provide his or her thoughts on the topic of student veterans, with some guiding questions provided to initiate the process. The idea behind our requests for expert contributions was to strengthen the information provided with additional input from prominent authors who are familiar names from the higher education literature. Readers trained in college administration and student development should find this “old friends” approach helpful as they consider the “new faces,” the students themselves.

Many of these men and women who courageously served during times of conflict are now turning their attention toward postsecondary pursuits, and it is important that we as a nation, and the higher education community in particular, make reasonable efforts to provide the necessary supports to assist veterans in their collegiate journey. Higher education has a rich history of assisting special populations to achieve academic success, including minorities, first-generation attendees, and students with disabilities. And although each generation has its own story and distinct qualities, the phenomenon of the returning veteran is not an unfamiliar scenario in the history of the United States.

Following World War II, record numbers of war veterans enrolled in colleges and universities using educational benefits from the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, familiar to most readers as the GI bill. The impact that millions of new college students had on American higher education was unprecedented, and postsecondary education grew tremendously during that era. Interestingly, although many of us who work in higher education have no military experience and perhaps cannot relate to today’s student veterans, most of us can venture back in our family histories to see where members of our own families served during past periods of conflict. In many cases, the trajectory of the family tree was altered for the better as a result of post–World War II college attendance by an elder. For many professors and senior administrators today, it is probable that college was not initially part of their family’s tradition until a parent or grandparent attended college on the GI bill, subsequently paving the way for later generations and perhaps their own college education. Fast forward to the current generation, and one might wonder whether life paths are being similarly altered by contemporary war service, subsequent college attendance using educational benefits, and, ultimately, degree attainment in the twenty-first century. Surely they are! Moreover, perhaps we are witnessing the origins of a new “greatest generation” (Brokaw, 1998), as our servicemen and -women protect our freedoms in a world where terroristic extremism is once again a threat. If predictions made by sociologists Strauss and Howe (1991, 2000) are accurate, then this current generation, the Millennials (born in the period from 1982 to 2002), should emulate their “elder” generation, the post–World War II age group. A new generation of college-trained adults who have sacrificed much for their country could be what America needs in terms of leadership in this new millennium of rapid global change. Employers seem to think so, as we witness many corporations in the Fortune 500 instituting efforts to recruit the best and brightest from the military to management positions. But for the time being, let us go back to campus.

The following chapters contain theories, frameworks, facts, and ideas for consideration when approaching the subject of the newest generation of college students who have experienced military service. This information should be particularly useful for those whose task is to provide support and services for student veterans, including campus administrators and policymakers. Not much research has been conducted in this area to date, and most of the work published in the last five years is qualitative, including publications from the authors of this volume. We are just now beginning to see an increase in the number of publications about veterans in college, using both qualitative and quantitative methods, a few ambitious research projects currently under way, and substantial interest from graduate students writing dissertations. We hope this volume proves to be a catalyst for increased attention and awareness.

The next chapter, “Home Alone? Applying Theories of Transition to Support Student Veterans’ Success,” uses the lens of the transition process as a basis for contemplating the experience of student veterans. Theories from Schlossberg, Bridges, Wapner, and others provide the foundation for an adapted model for helping professionals in higher education who work with students who are transitioning from military service to college and civilian life. Transitions of this type often involve adjustments in a variety of areas, including personal, academic, vocational, and social. Institutional assistance is integral to aid students in transition, with a holistic approach preferred. Nancy Schlossberg provided us a thoughtful commentary, giving her insights about transition for these students.

In “What Matters to Veterans? Peer Influences and the Campus Environment,” Astin’s I–E–O model provides a framework for characterizing the importance of veterans’ connecting with other veterans, which the research indicates may be vital for initial success and persistence when starting college. Veterans of war share a unique bond, and those ties can be useful when navigating the confusion and bureaucracy inherent in any college or university. It can occur in the student organization for veterans on campus or, more informally, in direct peer-to-peer interaction inside and outside the classroom. Moreover, the campus environment, as Astin made clear in his research and writings, plays a key role in this discussion and includes the programs and services designed to assist student veterans. Alexander Astin shared his thoughts in a brief commentary on the topic.

“Transition 2.0: Using Tinto’s Model to Understand Student Veterans’ Persistence” looks further into the collegiate journey of veterans, later into the matriculation process, and beyond initial peer connections to consider the interactions these students will have with the broader campus community, including faculty members and nonmilitary students. We consider Tinto’s ideas about integration, both academic and social, and whether those concepts apply to older, experienced students. We ask how all of these factors may play into a student’s decision to depart the institution or to persist. We also introduce two novel thoughts for readers to consider. First, we suggest that a veteran’s transition from military duty to civilian college student is really not complete until interaction with diverse others takes place. Second, we put forward evidence that employers want a “civilian version” of the desirable military traits that veterans possess. John Braxton, renowned professor and higher education researcher, shares his thinking on the topics of persistence and departure related to student veterans.

“Crisis of Identity? Veteran, Civilian, Student” reviews some of the key literature on college student development, drawing from the seminal works of Chickering, Jossleson, Kegan, Perry, and others. A typological model for understanding identity development in student veterans is revealed based on Marcia’s writings about identity formation and Jones and McEwen’s theory of multiple dimensions of identity. This chapter provides a novel approach for considering where a student veteran is in terms of development and offers ideas about how to proceed toward a fulfilled civilian identity. This information should be helpful for those whose task is to create programs and services for students with military experience. Linda Reisser, coauthor with Arthur Chickering of Education and Identity (1993; featuring the seven vectors of student development), provides her ideas about student veterans.

From Soldier to Student

The British historian and statesman James Bryce said, “The worth of a book is to be measured by what you can carry away from it” (Seaman, 2006, p. 44), and we hope you carry much with you from reading this volume. Carry with you some compassion for the men and women who have served our country so admirably, balanced with a fair sense of pragmatism about how much colleges and universities can do to support their success. Most important, we hope this volume inspires a wave of new research in this important topic.