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Helping Military Students Want to Complete Their Degree: More Money, Better Teachers, More Friends, or What?

Bruce Mentzer (Liberty University, USA)
Ellen Black (Liberty University, USA)
Additional Authors
R. Terry Spohn (Liberty University, USA)
Session Information
October 16, 2015 - 10:45am
Student Services and Learner Support
Major Emphasis of Presentation: 
Research Study
Institutional Level: 
Universities and Four Year Institutions
Audience Level: 
Session Type: 
Information Session
Americas Seminar
Session Duration: 
45 Minutes
Concurrent Session 10

Military students face challenges staying through graduation. This research sought to see if it was social, academic, or financial support kept these students engaged.

Extended Abstract

Colleges and universities invest heavily in the 1.5 million U.S. military students. Since WW II, the use of veterans educational benefits and college degrees served as the preamble to the solid citizen leader. The story begins, ÒWell, after the war, I got my degree with my GI Bill and É Ó. Our more recent experiences with a more fluid military and veteran student population has left us with a number of institutional responses to recreate this success: scholarships, expanded educational services, veterans affairs departments, cultural awareness workshops for faculty, and more social services. Just what research supports these more modern institutional responses? Or more specifically, just what can help us restore our part of the WW II preamble, ÒI got my degreeÓ? This issue is what faced us in this study: What support mechanism(s) help military students to want to complete degrees? Finding an answer to this question led us to the second one, ÒWhat can we as colleges and universities do about it?Ó

In this study, our hypotheses rotated around the relationship of these three support elements to persistence in the military population both singly and together. We wanted to know if social, financial, or academic supports had a relationship to commitment to complete degrees in the military student population. In addition, we wanted to know if any combination of these support elements would contribute to persistence.

In this study, we surveyed a graduate level student population (n = 294) that included 80 (27.2%) military students. These military students were either veterans, military members, or family members who were supported by educational benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) or Department of Defense (DoD). Our survey tool was the College Persistence Questionnaire v2 constructed by Davidson, Beck, & Milligan (2009) which contains ten measured mechanisms that related to our support elements and persistence. We used degree commitment for our persistence variable; grouped academic motivation, academic integration, and academic efficacy together for the academic element; used financial strain as a negatively-related mechanism for financial support; social integration and collegiate stress (also negative-related) for social support; and were left with institutional commitment, scholastic conscientiousness, and advising effectiveness as extra mechanisms.

In our initial look, we ran standard demographic descriptors and used multivariate and multiple regression techniques with the three support elements. Later, we looked at the survey data with the remaining mechanisms and used data from questions on financial debt, military educational benefits, and scholarships to widen our scope. We were able to look at the data using the military population compared to the nonmilitary and also see how they looked together.

As a consequence of the additional mechanisms in the survey, we included additional hypotheses. These hypotheses looked at the relationships of institutional commitment, academic effectiveness, and scholastic conscientiousness to persistence and the relationship of these to the support variables. Additionally, we wanted to compare the military to the nonmilitary students and see what they looked like overall.

Our results showed a few surprises as we thought most would have a significant relationship to persistence. While looking at just the military group for the social, financial, and academic supports to persistence, the combined model was significant with about 20 percent of the overall variance (p = .007. R2 = .209); however, when considering each element related to persistence, only academic support had a significant relationship to persistence (r = .42, p < .001). Both financial and social support elements were not significantly related to persistence. When comparing the military to the nonmilitary group in the overall model, we found that only financial support showed a slight difference. It had a more negative impact on the military students (p = .002, ? = .18). These were the only two significant conclusions from our initial look at financial, academic, and support supports to persistence with the military population.

When we included the three remaining mechanisms in the CPQv2, we had even more unexpected results. Institutional support was significantly related to persistence with the military students (r = .47, p = .001), as was and was slightly more important to the military group (p = .03). Advising was significant to the nonmilitary group (r = .22, p = .001) as was Scholastic Conscientiousness (r = .24, p = .001).
We also ran multivariate stepwise retrogression analyses for these variables broken down into the 10 CPQ v2 elements combined with the demographics for each group related to persistence. The military group regression model was significant (p = .001) and accounted for 32% of the variance with persistence. It was positively related to institutional commitment (? = .41, p = .001)
academic efficacy (? = .24, p = .02) and negatively related to loans (? = -.28, p = .004). The nonmilitary group regression model was also significant (p = .001) and accounted for 28.1% of the variance with persistence. Four elements weighed in: institutional commitment (? = .36, p = .001), academic efficacy (? = .18, p = .001), academic integration (? = .14, p = .01), and (negatively) government grants and aid (? = -.11, p = .03).

These results could have an impact on our approach to military students. Institutional commitment and academic support may contribute the most to degree completion. Increasing communication between faculty and students, providing clear feedback, and clearly organizing and structuring class content is a core finding of this study. Institutional identity and commitment to school excellence is a central, serendipitous goal for military students. These are just a few of the implications drawn from this study that may allow us to once again restore the citizen leaders that have often emerged from wedding military educational benefits with superior educational achievement.

Lead Presenter

Dr. Mentzer is a 2014 graduate of Liberty University's EdD in Higher Educational Leadership. He is also a veteran of the U.S. Navy and was employed by both the Navy's Center for Personal and Professional Development and the Army's Continuing Education Services. He is currently restarting his career in instructional design while taking care of aging parents. He also serves as a chaplain in the community and, happily, as an assistant hobby farmer.


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