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Student-Veteran Success: Experiences and Social Supports Open Access

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As the Post-9/11 GI Bill expanded, the number of veterans entering higher education expanded rapidly. In fiscal year 2013, nearly $12 billion was paid from all federal sources in postsecondary education benefits for over 1 million veterans and their beneficiaries (U.S. Government Accountability Office, 2013). Given the number of student-veterans who are using educational benefits, it is important to understand their experiences and the ways in which they find success. The theoretical frameworks for this study were Bourdieu’s theory of Cultural Capital (1986), Coleman’s theory of Social Capital (1990), Steele’s theory of stereotype threat (1997), and Bandura’s theory of self-efficacy (1997). These four theories provided theoretical frameworks to examine the educational experiences and social supports. Harper’s Anti-Deficit Achievement Framework (2012) was used to view the findings from a strengths-based perspective to study the success of student-veterans.This study used a non-experimental, basic interpretative, qualitative research design, with thematic analysis. Interviews with 18 student-veterans resulted in 17 themes that answered the overarching research question: How do successful student-veterans attending one of the four SUNY University Centers describe their educational experiences and social support? The research provided five findings: (1) the path to enlistment was shaped by their desire to build on social and Cultural Capital deficits and the student-veterans were committed to completing a bachelor’s degree, (2) enrollment in higher education came from a sense of purpose and direction that were developed as a result of success gained in their military service, (3) the student-veterans executed a plan to manage and maximize their use of social supports to positively influence academic success, (4) higher education was perceived as both a challenge and a goal to be obtained, which required navigating as they transitioned from soldier to civilian, and (5) student-veterans were aware of the many strategies and services available to assist in their success, but ultimately used very few. This research provides practitioners a better understanding of the success of student-veterans from an anti-deficit framework using a strengths-based approach and ideas on administrative actions to support the success of student-veterans.

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