The act of becoming a college student: a case study of student veterans' experiences pre-during-post military service
Each year the number of individuals who join the military is around 150,000, and many only spend four to eight years in the military before leaving to find their next career as a civilian. Many of these veterans enroll in higher education and begin to utilize the educational benefits they earned through their military service. Student veterans represent a growing demographic within higher education. Officials at these institutions need to gain new knowledge of the veteran experiences and how those experiences inform their perception of self as a college student. The purpose of this qualitative study was to understand the transitional and transformational experiences of military veterans who are now college students. More specifically, the purpose of this case study (Creswell, 2007; Yin, 2003; Merriam, 2004) was to explore the experiences of five student veterans in three universities and two states (Texas and Ohio) to understand how they created a connection between their pre-during-post military experiences, how they managed the process of change from military personnel to college students, and the act of their transformation. This study employed constructivism (Christ, 2011) as its methodological framework. Using Schlossberg’s Transition Theory (Schlossberg, Waters & Goodman, 1995) and Mezirow’s Transformational Learning (Mezirow, 1996) as the theoretical frames, with interviews (Qu & Dumay, 2011) as the primary source of data collection, An inductive analysis (Saldaña, 2011) was conducted to analyze the data to conduct the case study with findings presented as rich descriptive narratives (Creswell, 2007). After the interviews were completed and the analysis of individual cases conducted, a case analysis (Yin, 2003) resulted in six themes: the path is not straight, environments of learning, disorienting dilemma, uncompromising mindset, a part of the whole, and a shared sense of self. This study informs university administrators and faculty about the unique student veteran demographic. The implications apply to higher education administrators as they prepare for the increased number of veterans who will be entering higher education in the future and higher education faculty as they prepare for unique instruction that these veterans expect.