Choice, transition, engagement, and persistence : the experiences of female student veterans at the University of Texas at Austin
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As the numbers of veterans on campus increase as a result of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the reauthorization of the GI Bill, higher education is called to more keenly understand and support this population (Baechtold & De Sawal, 2009). Moreover, in light of the growing population of female student veterans, this timely study adds to the inappropriately small body of knowledge of female military veterans’ experiences in higher education and to conceptualize this population’s experiences with regard to college choice, transition to campus, institutional engagement, and overall persistence to degree. By utilizing a transitional theory framework, this study advances research on the particularly complex educational trajectories of female student veterans (Hamrick & Rumann, 2011). By employing a phenomenological approach, this study brings a close examination of the experiences as described by participants, providing for a distillation of respondents’ experiences into a composite description of their experiences, which can be used to inform faculty, staff, and administration about this growing population. Lastly, by examining the experiences of female student veterans at a four-year, flagship, public research university, this study augments our understanding about a worrisome trend: female student veterans select four-year, research institutions less frequently than their male peers and nonveteran women, despite the presence of educational benefits provided by military service and the GI Bill, the robust veteran student services more often found at four-year institutions, and the long-term personal economic benefits that come from completing a four-year degree. Female student veteran experiences served as a major source of data and research was gathered in the form of a demographic survey, individual interviews, and small focus groups consisting of undergraduate female student veterans at The University of Texas at Austin. Outcomes are manifold and include the conceptualization of the unique experiences of female student veterans at the university as well as support for future policy relating to female student veterans’ educational success.