Editor’s note: This article was first published in HigherEdMilitary.
Warrant Officer Randall Johnson had enjoyed his military career; but now, he had other concerns on his mind. At 39 years old, with two kids, a wife, and a dog, he knew that unless he returned to the civilian world and tried to make more money, he was not going to provide for his family the kind of lifestyle he had always dreamed of giving them.
Johnson had entered the military at 18. He wanted to achieve something no one else in his family had been able to obtain: a college degree.
Thinking back on that time in his life, Randall remembered that he never really considered himself to be much of a student. But now, as he considered his options; he thought that maybe he had just needed time to mature, and he would do better in his classes this time around.
His attitude changed and Randall got a bit excited as he realized how much he wanted that college degree as insurance so that he could get a good-paying job once he re-entered the civilian workplace. And now, as he was turning 40, he realized he needed to take that next step, before his age began to stand in the way of finding a meaningful career.
Warrant Officer Johnson’s conflicting opinions about his future are not that unusual, according to Abby Kinch, interim chief of staff for the Student Veterans of America, or SVA. The primary reason for enlisting in the military is to get education benefits and go to college, she said. This trend has gotten even greater since enlistment numbers surged after 9/11.
And among the roughly 75% of veterans who do pursue to a four-year degree, the majority are full-time students, who simultaneously choose to work a full- or part-time job. Their spouses may work too.
Kinch is an Air Force veteran who worked as airborne cryptologic linguist in the military. Like many other service members and veterans, her motivation to enlist was the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers in New York and on the Pentagon.
“I was a sophomore in college on Sept. 11,” said Kinch. “At that time, I was slow to realize what was going on.” But, at 19 years old, Abby enlisted; just 24 hours after the Twin Towers fell.
After she left the service, Dr. Kinch went back to school, where she continued to pursue her education until earning a Ph.D. in public administration and policy at Florida State University. She also joined SVA as a chapter member in 2011. The nonprofit agency reaches about 750,000 student veterans a year, she said.
“Our main goal is empowering student veterans to, through, and beyond higher education. We advocate for student veterans on the campus level.”
Dr. Kinch pointed out that student veterans are looking for meaningful, highly compensating careers. That is why, she said, the vast majority of veterans go to four-year public universities and major in business, STEM, or health-care related fields.
Top five majors of 2023
According to Dr. Michael T. Nietzel, president emeritus of Missouri State University, and a senior contributor to Forbes online, “In the past decade, there has been a substantial shift toward practically oriented majors with greater job prospects.” He added that the move away from liberal arts majors has created more interest in the computer sciences.
Dr. Nietzel’s Feb 16, 2022, Forbes article identified the most popular majors among the class of 2023. This list is based upon Niche, a data-gathering resource for prospective college students:
- Business (6.57%)
- Medicine/Pre-Medicine (5.99%)
- Psychology (5.36%)
- Biology (5.04%)
- Nursing (3.89%)
Majors preferred by student veterans and military students
So, how does this list stack up against the majors preferred by military students? Dr. Kinch commented that many of these same options are likely to be chosen by military learners too, with one exception: psychology.
“Social sciences are not among the top majors these veteran students usually pursue, because they tend to be more purposeful in their money decisions. They are looking for a career before, or directly after separation, and want to find the college majors that will get them those options.”
Dr. Kinch also stated that the vast majority of student veterans are not distance learners because they’re looking to be full-time students. Distance learners; on the other hand, are usually active-duty service members who are using tuition assistance to pay for their classes.
According to Dr. Nietzel, who obtained his Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Illinois in 1973, student veterans have a good sense of the job market. As a result, enrollment in majors in IT and the healthcare professions are definitely benefiting from this trend, as are standard business majors, like finance and accounting.
But, he said, he has also seen evidence of another emerging trend on the horizon.
“You see a movement toward communications,” Michael said. In the last couple of years, the enrollment is rising, as companies attach more importance to a strong communications department. Whether or not communications will emerge among the top five popular college majors has yet to be seen, he added.
Drs. Kinch and Nietzel both pointed out that the influx of military students on college campuses in recent years has had very positive impacts upon the student population overall.
“I’d like to emphasize the benefits that veterans bring to colleges campuses,” Kinch said. “They are funded students who graduate with high GPAs and get outstanding careers.”
Dr. Nietzel agreed, “I think that faculty generally like to have diversity in their classes; the experiences that former military would bring to the classroom should be seen as an asset.”
Suzane Bricker is an associate adjunct online professor in the academic writing and communications departments at the University of Maryland Global Campus.