- In 2010 the American taxpayers spent $697 million educating veterans under the provisions of the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944 (commonly referred to as the GI Bill). Most veterans begin their college education at a community college. However, the number of veterans succeeding in community colleges is exceedingly low. Based on the percentage of veterans earning a degree, a professional certificate, or transferring to a four-year college, most estimates indicate that less than half will succeed. Four-year colleges, universities, and community colleges have undertaken a number of specific educational reforms and implemented multiple support activities that positively contribute to veterans' education success. While some of the methodologies enhance veterans' success, still too many veterans are not achieving their educational goals. Toward this end, additional educational approaches need to be identified.
Thus, knowing the success veterans have experienced using a "team-centric" or cohort philosophy in the military, the purpose of this study was to examine veteran students’ perceptions of a cohort learning model as a potential positive contributor to their persistence and success at community colleges.
The theoretical framework for this study relied upon self-determination theory in the context of veteran students' team-centric military training experience. A major tenet of self-determination theory asserts that satisfying the psychological needs of competence, autonomy, and relatedness lead to increased motivation and, ultimately, greater persistence and success. As such, these elements are inherent to the nature of a cohort model and traditional military training philosophy.
This study used a qualitative approach with direct interviews of 17 veteran students enrolled in veterans' specific cohort programs at two community colleges. The interviews were structured to identify which elements of the military’s team centric or cohort training model veteran students perceived transfer to their community college experience, and if implemented, could aid their efforts to persist and eventually succeed in their educational pursuits. Interviews were conducted using a semi-structured interview protocol. Veteran student responses were then transcribed verbatim and coded to identify categories supporting four overarching themes:
* Non-Traditional Students
* Military Veteran Traits and Skills
* Benefits of and Desire for More Veteran Cohort Classes
The striking similarities in veteran students' responses at both colleges were indicative of saturation and strongly favored the cohort model as a vehicle for their success. Thus, elements of increased motivation, self-confidence, competence, and autonomy were evident. Camaraderie and mutual support among the veteran students were the strongest data points from the interviews that supported the self-determination theory concept of relatedness as an enabler of motivation.
Ultimately, veteran students believed that elements of their team-centric military training experience were transferrable to the academic environment via the cohort model and that this cohort approach helped them persist in community college. This research provides data for community college leadership to contemplate as they consider options to enhance veteran student success and validate the significant taxpayer investment in veterans' education.