Thursday, November 29, 2012

Measuring the Military Experience: An Analysis of Veteran and Non-Veteran Academic Achievement in a Postsecondary Environment


By Dr Flavius A B Akerele III


The Post-9/11 GI Bill expanded educational opportunities to military veterans and their families. Through 2010, $5.7 billion was spent to provide funding for the continued education of military service members and veterans; the estimated expenditure on the GI Bill for the 2011 fiscal year was $8 billion (United States Government Accountability Office, 2011). Recognizing that with increased tax funding there also must be accountability, research has been conducted on the implementation of the benefit program, the usage rates of participants within the program, and more recently, the program’s vulnerability to fraud and misuse. However, an area of interest that has gone largely unstudied is the question of whether military experience has any affect on academic outcomes. With more military members having greater access to academic opportunities, now is an ideal time to study academic achievement rates between veteran and nonveteran students and determine if there are significant differences.

The first step in comparing academic achievement rates between two groups is to decide what specific measurements to use. Many parameters can be used: standardized tests, graduation rates, grade point averages (GPAs), post-education employment rates. Just as there are many ways to measure academic performance, there are also many factors that influence academic performance. Variables such as family history, learning environment, and socio-economic status can affect educational outcomes, and researchers have cited several potential predictors of educational success including ACT and Sat scores, (McLure & Child, 1999), membership in on-campus Greek institutions (Grubb, 2005), gender (Nelson & Leganza, 2006), and ethnicity (Juhong & Maloney, 2006). The goal of this study was to determine what affect if any military service has on postsecondary academic outcomes. 

            Relatively little research has been conducted comparing veteran and non-veteran academic performance, and the vast majority of research that exists on the topic is decades old. One of the more recent examples was research by Harvey Joanning (1975) who studied students at the university of Iowa, comparing the academic achievement of veterans to non-veterans. Joanning (1975) used GPA as a measure for academic achievement and found that veterans attained higher GPAs than their non-veteran counterparts. The highest scores where achieved by students who had attended some college after high school, entered the military, and then returned to college after their military service ended (Joanning, 1975). Joanning’s research was a continuation of previous work by Clark (1947), Hansen and Paterson (1949), Frederickson and Schrader (1951), and Paraskevopoulos and Robinson (1969) that supported the finding that veteran students performed at higher levels in college than non-veteran students. Joanning was also testing whether the findings for World War II veterans would hold true for veterans of the Vietnam War. Based on the research, the difference in achievement between veterans and non-veterans has not seemed to change over time.


The main question addressed by this research was whether there was a difference in academic achievement between veteran students and no-nveteran students. Academic achievement was measured using student grade point averages (GPAs), attrition rates, and graduation rates. Quantitative student data from Brandman University’s San Diego, California campus was analyzed, and students were grouped into two categories: veteran and non-veteran. San Diego is home to one of the largest concentrated populations of military service members and veterans in the United States, and the Brandman University system is military friendly with six campuses located directly on military bases.

The researcher examined academic data from 638 undergraduate students during the time span 2009-2011. The Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS) 17.0 was used to analyze the data for outliers, skewness and kurtosis, and after eliminating all anomalous or incomplete data sets, the veteran sample population was n = 85, and the non-veteran sample population was n = 336. Then, using the available data, GPA, attrition rates, and graduation rates of the two sample groups were compared. A Mann-Whitney U test was used to determine if there was a significant difference in the GPA scores and attrition rates of veteran and non-veteran students. A chi square test for independence (with Yates continuity correction) was used to determine if there was a significant difference in the graduation rates of the two groups.


            Based on a statistical analysis of the data, the researcher was able to test three hypotheses. First, it was hypothesized that there would be a significant difference between the GPAs of veteran and non-veteran students. This hypothesis was supported by the data. Veterans had significantly higher mean GPA scores (Mean = 3.227) than non-veterans (Mean = 3.069). This difference is the equivalent of approximately one half of a letter grade (e.g., B to B+ or A- to A).

            Second, it was hypothesized that there would be a significant difference between attrition rates based upon veteran or non-veteran status. This hypothesis was also supported by the data. There was a significant difference in mean attrition scores (Mann-Whitney U = 10872.000, z = -3.448, p < 0.05, r = -0.168) with veterans exhibiting significantly lower mean attrition scores (Mean = .22) than non-veterans (Mean = .33). This finding indicated that veterans enrolled in 22% of the possible courses they could have enrolled in, while non-veterans enrolled in 33% of the possible courses that they could have enrolled in. The practical significance of non-veterans enrolling in more classes than veteran students means that on average, non-veterans should complete their degrees faster than veteran students.

            Third and finally, it was hypothesized that there would be a significant difference in graduation rates between veteran and non-veteran students. This hypothesis was not supported by the data. Thus, despite the fact that veteran students may be taking longer to graduate, there is no evidence that they have less chance of graduating than their non-veteran peers.


            There were limitations with regard to this research. This research was limited by the fact that data was collected from a single campus in the Brandman Univeristy system, and the population may not necessarily be easily generalizable to a wider geographical population. Furthermore, the students in the veteran sample population were largely members of the Navy and the Marine Corps, so a wider veteran sample that included all branches of the military would be more representative. A final limitation was that they research only covered the academic years between 2009 and 2011. A longitudinal study may yield more information with regard to trends in academic performance among the two sample groups.


            Based on this study’s findings, there is a compelling argument in favor of further research specifically aimed at discovering why veteran and non-veterans exhibit differences in academic achievement. Several specific questions are raised by this study’s findings. With regard to GPA, why are non-veteran students under performing compared to veteran students? What are the differences between the two groups? What factors affect GPA? In terms of persistence rates, one must ask why do veteran students enroll in significantly fewer courses than non-veteran students? Is there a link between enrolling in fewer classes per term and higher GPA scores?

With greater numbers of veterans entering postsecondary education after military service due to government benefits like the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the importance of this research is only reinforced. Veterans currently face much higher rates of unemployment than non-veterans (Beucke, 2011). This fact, combined with the continuing draw down of troops from both Iraq and Afghanistan, has the potential to contribute to even larger numbers of military veterans entering postsecondary institutions to further their education and put themselves in better positions to find jobs. The sizable investments of both time and money devoted to postsecondary education alone would make research into veteran academic achievement useful. However, several practical implications exist for both veteran students and academic institutions, and only through further study can those implications be better understood.


Beucke, D. (2011, November 11). Unemployment for young vets: 30%, and rising. BloombergBusinessweek. Retrieved from

Clark, E. L. (1947). Veteran as a college freshman. School and Society, 66, 205-207.

Fredericksen, N., & Schrader, W. B. (1951). Adjustment to college. Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service.

Grubb, F. (2006). Does going Greek impair undergraduate academic performance? A case study. The American Journal of Economics and Sociology, 65(5), 1085-1087.

Nansen, L. M., & Paterson,m D. G. (1949). Scholastic achievement of veterans. School and Society, 69, 195-197.

Joanning, H. (1975). The academic performance of Vietnam Veteran college students. The Journal of College Student Personnel, 16(1), 10-13.

Juhong, B., & Maloney, T. (2006). Ethnicity and academic success at university. New Zealand Economic Papers, 40(2), 181-183.

McLure, G. T., & Child, R. L. (1999). Upward Bound students compared to other college-bound students: Profiles of nonacademic characteristics and academic achievement. The Journal of Negro Education, 67(4), 37.

Nelson, C. V., & Leganza, K. K. (2006). Is gender a predictor of success in college mathematics courses? College and University, 81(4), 11-13.

Paraskevopoulos, J., & Robinson, L. F. (1969). Comparison of college performance of cold war veterans and non-veterans. College and University, 44(2), 189-191.

United States Government Accountability Office. (2011, May). Veterans’ education benefits: Enhanced guidance and collaboration could improve administration of the Post-9/11 GI Bill program. [GAO-11-356R]. Retrieved from


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