Although the utilization of the GI Bill has spurred veterans’ entrance into higher education, the research about this experience has focused on male veterans. Women’s voices have been largely absent from research, meaning little is known about their experiences, including what facilitates or deters academic success. The purpose of this phenomenological study was to explore the lived experiences of women army veterans who enrolled in an undergraduate program post-discharge while also illuminating both opportunities and challenges during the transition into an academic setting.
Methods: Thirteen women army veterans took part in a series of two in-depth semi-structured interviews. All thirteen women were from the United States, and they were all white. The women aged 25-70 served from the 1970s until the mid-2010s. Participants were recruited via social media, direct Facebook messaging to women veterans’ organizations such as SWAN, and emails sent to veterans' centers on campuses. The first interview centered the participant’s life history, including family history, geography, socioeconomics, and culture. Additionally, questions covered areas of their experiences in the military and in higher education. The second interview done 7-9 days later asked participants to reflect further on their military and higher education experiences and the impact that gender may have had on either of these experiences. Interviews were transcribed verbatim and coded thematically using Dedoose qualitative software. Coding was guided by the principles of phenomenology and phenomenological reduction.
Findings: The findings of this study concur with the current literature that veteran students are focused, goal oriented and mission driven. Female veterans bring habits, skills, and knowledge from their military experience into higher education that facilitate their academic success. The findings also emphasize that the transition between the military and higher education is cross cultural while highlighting the negative impact the lack of understanding of military culture within higher education has on the transition. The use of the Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological model provides opportunity to understand the multi-level systems and cultures that student veteran is coping with during transition.
Conclusion and Implications: The extant literature regarding veterans in higher education has centered male voices and narratives. There is a substantial gap in the literature regarding female veterans’ experiences Findings underscore the need for more research into the experience of female veterans’ by centering their unique voices and by focusing on understanding the female student veteran transition between military and higher education cultures and identities. This study partially addresses the existing gap in the literature regarding female veterans’ experience of higher education. Findings demonstrate the importance of understand the military culture (e.g., knowledge, habits, and skils) that these veterans carry foward into higher education