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Female military spouses who are nontraditional students: Why they leave higher education and what supports and services would assist them in returning to complete their higher education goals

Dissertation
Author: Linn L. Jorgenson
Abstract:
The American College Testing Program (ACT) reported that approximately 48% of students who enroll in college depart after their first year. Nontraditional students have a higher departure rate than traditional students. One such nontraditional group of students consists of female spouses of military personnel. These spouses are frequently involved in unexpected relocation, family separation, remote tours of service, long-term separation from extended families, and residence in foreign countries. The literature reports that approximately 87% of these spouses list education as a personal goal. This study examined the enrollment in and departure from higher education programs by female spouses of military personnel. The study used a mixed-methods, action-oriented research model, gathering data via a 27-item survey. Respondents were 151 female spouses of active duty military members, 25 years of age or older, who had discontinued their education in a college or university setting. The respondents reported that they had left higher education because of having children, frequency of moves, financial reasons, no time for school, job demands, and the absence of degree programs in their new location. They identified supports and services that would assist them in returning to higher education: flexible course times, more frequent course offerings, better financial assistance, improved course offerings, and improved career counseling. Study results will be shared with stakeholders involved in funding, course and program selection, and military base support services, with the intent to assist in providing appropriate resources to help female military spouses to achieve their higher education goals. Key Words: Women, Higher Education, Military Spouse, Retention, Nontraditional Student

vii TABLE OF CONTENTS

CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION 1 Statement of the Problem 2 Purpose of the Study 4 Research Goals 5 Research Questions 5 Limitations of the Study 6 Chapter Summary 7 CHAPTER 2: LITERATURE REVIEW 8 A History of the Higher Education System 8 Statistics Related to Female Spouses of Active Duty Military Members 10 Military Scholarship and Educational Opportunities 11 Military Spouse Employment 13 Characteristics of Adult Learners 15 The Nontraditional Student 17 The Female Adult Learner 20 Retention in Higher Education 22 Retention of Female Students 25 Chapter Summary 28 CHAPTER 3: METHODOLOGY 30 Research Questions 30 Research Design 30 Survey 31 Follow-Up Panel 34 Setting 34

viii Participants 35 Data Collection Procedures 35 Survey 35 Follow-Up Panel 36 Data Analysis 37 Survey 37 Follow-Up Panel 38 Chapter Summary 38 CHAPTER 4: RESULTS 39 Research Questions 39 Results for Research Question 1a 40 Results for Research Question 1b 50 Personal Demographic Factors 51 Personal Internal Factors 51 Knowledge of Funding Sources for Higher Education 53 Demographic Factors Related to Husband 54 Demographic Factors Related to Housing 54 Results for Research Question 2 56 Participants’ Explanations of Why They Left Higher Education 57 Participants’ Ratings of 14 Reasons for Discontinuing Courses in Higher Education 60 Top Three Reasons Participants Left Higher Education Based on Previously Rated Items 66 Results for Research Question 3 70 Participants’ Ratings of Eight Supports and Services That Would Bring Them Back to Higher Education 72 Top Three Supports and Services That Would Bring Participants Back to Higher Education Based on Previously Rated Items 75

ix Additional Supports and Services That Would Be Helpful in Assisting Military Wives in Returning to Higher Education 79 Results for Research Question 4 82 Results of Follow-Up Panel 86 Research Question 2 87 Research Question 3 88 Chapter Summary 90 CHAPTER 5: DISCUSSION 96 Research Questions 96 Results for Research Question 1a 96 Number of Children in the Home 97 Number of Credits Past Degree 98 Husband’s Rank 98 Closest Military Base 98 Programs That Participants Were Interested in Pursuing 99 Strength of Desire to Continue 99 Familiarity With the AFSTAP Financial Assistance Programs 100 Results for Research Question 1b 101 Personal Demographic Factors Related to Military Wives Continuing in Higher Education 101 Personal Internal Demographic Factors as Predictors for Continuing in Higher Education 101 Knowledge of Funding Sources as Predictors of Military Wives’ Inclination to be Enrolled in Higher Education 102 Demographic Factors Related to Husband as Predictors of Military Wives Being Enrolled in Higher Education 103 Demographic Factors Related to Housing Predictors of Military Wives Being Enrolled or Not Enrolled in Higher Education 103

x Results for Research Question 2 103 Participants’ Explanations of Why They Left Higher Education 103 Having children 104 Frequency of moves 104 Financial reasons 105 Degree program not offered in new location 105 No time 106 Job demands 106 Results of Logistic Regression With Reasons for Discontinuing Courses in Higher Education Listed by Participants as Predictors 106 Participants’ Ratings of 14 Reasons for Discontinuing Courses in Higher Education 107 Logistic Regression With Reasons Participants Rated for Discontinuing Higher Education as Predictors 107 Top Three Reasons Participants Left Higher Education Based on Previously Rated Items 108 Results for Research Question 3 108 Participants’ Ratings of Supports and Services That Would Bring Them Back to Higher Education 108 Flexible course times 109 More frequent course offerings 110 Better financial aid assistance 110 Improved program offerings 110 Improved career counseling services 111 Top Three Supports and Services That Would Bring Participants Back to Higher Education Based on Previously Rated Items 112 Additional Supports and Services That Would Be Helpful in Assisting Military Wives in Returning to Higher Education 112 Results for Research Question 4 112

xi Recommendations for Practice 114 Recommendations for Further Research 116 Conclusion 117 REFERENCES 118 APPENDICES 128

xii LIST OF TABLES 1. Results of Chi-Square Tests of Association for Background Characteristics of Participants Who Were Enrolled in Higher Education, Not Enrolled in Higher Education, and the Total for Categorical Demographic Variables 41 2. Results of t Tests for Background Characteristics of Participants Who Were Enrolled in Higher Education, Not Enrolled in Higher Education, and the Total for Continuous Demographic Variables 42 3. Results of Chi-Square Tests of Association for Background Characteristics Related to Husbands of Participants Who Were Enrolled in Higher Education, Not Enrolled in Higher Education, and the Total for Categorical Variables 44 4. Results of t Tests for Background Characteristics Related to Husbands of Participants Who Were Enrolled in Higher Education, Not Enrolled in Higher Education, and Total Continuous Variables 45 5. Results of t Tests for Participants’ Clarity of Educational Goal, Academic Preparedness, Desire to Continue Higher Education for Those Enrolled, Those Not Enrolled, and All Participants 47 6. Results of Chi-Square Tests of Association for the Next Degree (or are Currently Pursuing) and Program Interests to Pursue for Participants Enrolled in College, Those Not Enrolled, and Total 49 7. Results of Chi-Square Tests of Association for Familiarity with Financial Assistance Programs for Participants Enrolled in College, Participants Not Enrolled, and Total 50 8. Logistic Regression Using Personal Demographic Factors as Predictors 52 9. Logistic Regression with Personal Internal Factors as Predictors for Continuing in Higher Education 53 10. Logistic Regression With Knowledge of Funding Sources as Predictors of Military Wives’ Inclination to Be Enrolled in Higher Education 55 11. Logistic Regression Using Variables Related to Husband as Predictors 56 12. Logistic Regression Using Housing Status Predictors of Military Wives’ Being Enrolled or Not Enrolled in Higher Education 57 13. Percentages and Frequencies of Reasons for Discontinuing Courses in Higher Education, for All Participants, in Descending Order 58 14. Percentages and Frequencies of Reasons for Discontinuing Courses in Higher Education, for Participants Who Were Enrolled in Higher Education, in Descending Order 59

xiii 15. Percentages and Frequencies of Reasons for Discontinuing Courses in Higher Education, for Participants Who Were Not Enrolled in Higher Education, in Descending Order 61 16. Logistic Regression With Reasons for Discontinuing Courses in Higher Education Listed by Participants as Predictors 62 17. Means and Standard Deviations for Reasons for Discontinuing Courses in Higher Education for Participants Who Were Enrolled in Higher Education, Those Who Were Not Enrolled, and All Participants 63 18. Logistic Regression With Reasons that Participants Rated 1-5 for Discontinuing Higher Education as Predictors 65 19. Percentages and Frequencies of the Three Most Important Reasons for Discontinuing Courses in Higher Education for All Participants 67 20. Percentages and Frequencies of the Three Most Important Reasons for Discontinuing Courses in Higher Education for Participants Who Were Enrolled in Higher Education 68 21. Percentages and Frequencies of the Three Most Important Reasons for Discontinuing Courses in Higher Education for Participants Who Were Not Enrolled in Higher Education 69 22. Logistic Regression With Top Three Reasons for Discontinuing Courses in Higher Education as Predictors 71 23. Means and Standard Deviations of Supports and Services That Would Encourage Participants to Return to Higher Education 72 24. Logistic Regression With Supports and Services That Would Influence Military Wives in Returning to Higher Education as Predictors 74 25. Top Three Supports and Services That Would Influence All Participants to Return to Higher Education 76 26. Top Three Supports and Services That Would Influence Participants Who Were Enrolled in Higher Education to Return to Higher Education 77 27. Top Three Supports and Services That Would Influence Participants Who Were Not Enrolled in Returning to Higher Education 78 28. Logistic Regression With Most Highly Rated Supports and Services That Would Influence Participants to Return to Higher Education Predictors 79 29. Supports and Services Suggested by All Participants That Would Assist Them in Returning to Higher Education 80

xiv 30. Supports and Services Suggested by Participants Who Were Enrolled in Higher Education That Would Assist Them in Returning to Higher Education 81 31. Supports and Services Suggested by Participants Who Were Not Enrolled in Higher Education That Would Assist in Returning to Higher Education 82 32. Logistic Regression With Additional Supports and Services That Would Influence Those Not In Higher Education to Return as Predictors 83 33. Logistic Regression Using All Significant Variables as Predictors of Military Wives’ Being Enrolled or Not Enrolled in Higher Education 85

xv LIST OF APPENDICES A. Military Spouses and Higher Education 128 B. Follow-Up Panel Questions 134 C. Informed Consent Form 135 D. Letter of Invitation 137 E. Summary of the Study 138 F. Permission to Attend Meetings 139 G. Introduction at All Meetings Held to Recruit Participants for Study 141

CHAPTER ONE INTRODUCTION In 2008, the year in which this study was conducted, over 7,000 female spouses lived in the Kaiserslautern Military Community (KMC) in Germany. In 2007, only 1,055 women applied for and were granted scholarships through the Air Force Spouse Tuition Assistance Program (AFSTAP; S. L. Juarez, personal communication, March 24, 2008). Grant Coordinator, Suzanne Juarez, explained that spouses reported that going to college was too expensive, some were just not interested, some listed child care issues as problematic, and sometimes, sought-after programs were not available to spouses who were not in school who were interested in attending higher education. The Army Emergency Relief Fund (AERF; Army Emergency Relief Agency, 2006) reported that educational scholarships were awarded in a total amount of $523,887; however, approximately $17,000 was left over that was not utilized due to lack of scholarship applications. The head of the Family Readiness Group, Ms. Angela Bellamy, said, “I wish that more women would apply to this program, but it is an on-line application, and perhaps those who need it most don’t necessarily have access to a computer, nor do they know of the program benefits” (GlobalSecurity.org, 2010, p. 1). The U.S. Department of Defense (2007) reported that the single most important issue to insure that military members across the United States continue to re-enlist or serve their full tour of duty is whether or not their spouse is satisfied with her education, career, and overall quality of life. According to the Associated Press (2005), a growing number of large employers have begun actively seeking to hire the wives of Armed Forces enlistees due to the Pentagon officials recognizing that dissatisfied spouses are helping drive the military’s high attrition rates. In the same newspaper article, Defense Department spokesman Maj. Michael Shavers said, “The decision to re-enlist is often made around the

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kitchen table” (p. 1). Burrell, Adams, Durand, and Castro (2006) reported that the most satisfied military families were those with an employed spouse, and that the influence of military spouses on their husband’s decision to remain in the Armed Forces has increased with the proportion of military spouses working outside the home. According to the report of the second Quadrennial Quality of Life Review (2009), half of the spouses who were surveyed not enrolled in school indicated a strong desire to attend higher education. According to the Report on Military Spouse Education and Employment (2008), 87% of women who were married to active duty service members acknowledged a strong desire to attend higher education. Pilon (2010) reported that the difference in income between those holding a bachelor’s degree and those holding a high school diploma is approximately $45,000 a year. Based on these statistics, completing a degree in higher education is an accomplishment that would seem to have positive effects on the spouse, her family, and U.S. military retention efforts. In this study, I gathered data on the reasons for female military spouses’ lack of participation in higher education, and supports and services that would help the spouse to return to higher education. Specifically, I surveyed women defined as nontraditional students, who meet the definition of anyone older than 25 (Moore, W. Y. C., 1985). In this chapter, I provide a statement of the problem, the purpose of the study, the research goals, research questions, and the limitations of the study. The research design and the limitations of the study are also addressed. Statement of the Problem Higher education enrollments are rising, yet only 21% of spouses of military members have earned a bachelor’s degree (U.S. Department of Defense Report, 2009). According to the U.S. Department of Education (2006), female enrollment has changed from only 678,977 attending in 1945 to 9,884,782 in 2004.

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These statistics indicate that both the number and the gender diversity of students attending higher education have grown across the United States. They also show that females have now surpassed males in college enrollment. In addition, while a shift has occurred in who attends college, Hansen (1998) found that students who were employed while attending college rose from 36% in 1973 to 69% in 1995. Nontraditional women who were over the age of 25, attended school part time, worked part time, were financially independent of their parents, had dependents other than a spouse, were single parents, and did not have a high school diploma have gained in numbers across college campuses (McDonough, 2004). Today, adults or nontraditional students make up a minimum of 73% of all higher education enrollments. The enrollment trends are a clear indication that those in higher education need to acknowledge and focus on the steadily increasing number of nontraditional, female students throughout campuses in the United States. Individuals at the forefront of higher education will have to focus attention on this newer, heavily populated group of students. Female, nontraditional students face challenges that are different from students under the age of 25. Betz (1994) reported that many women have lacked confidence in their ability to succeed academically and to pursue career-related tasks. Betz further indicated that 60% of women’s family members were not supportive of their return to higher education. Feldman (1993) reported that women often have low self-esteem, and they are part-time students, who are considered at greater risk for dropping out of school when compared with nontraditional students who are attending full-time. According to Bowler (2009), 32% of college students dropped out of college during their freshman year, and half of the freshman class never graduated. The military lifestyle is yet an additional barrier that nontraditional women must face when attempting to return to the higher education setting. While the routine pressures

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of the role of a woman certainly add to the complexities of completing a higher education degree, added stressors from military life challenge a woman further. Jones (1989) reported that military spouses must deal with prolonged absences by their active-duty husbands, frequent moves, isolation from the civilian

community, and the potential loss of a family member in war

or preparation for war. The U.S. Department of Defense, Task Force on Mental Health (2007) reported that military spouses must deal with both the absence of their spouse due to military deployments across the world, as well as to the adjustment of their return to the family. The report noted that 38% of active duty military members return from deployment with some psychological stress related to their time at war, adding additional stressors to the spouses who are married to active duty military members. According to Burrell et al. (2006), factors that contribute to the limited number of college educated personnel are: “Service member absence, military work schedules, frequent and unexpected moves, lack of transferability with credit course earnings, and an out-of-state tuition status” (p. 14). Purpose of the Study The purpose of the study was to identify ways to increase military wives’ enrollment in higher education. Padula (1994) reported that while a great amount of research has been conducted to identify factors related to why women drop out of higher education, little or no research has been conducted on the reasons that motivate women’s return to higher education. Tinto (1987) found that although women depart from higher education for a variety of reasons, their return to higher education is based on reasons that may or may not be connected to the reasons they originally left the institution. Rather than cut ties with those who fail to earn a degree, institutions should reinforce those ties. Rather than penalize, in effect, both the institution and the individual for the person’s not having completed his/her degree, the institution should leave open its doors to leavers by viewing their stay as but one part of a longer process of social and intellectual development which we hope knows no bounds. (p. 212)

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Research Goals The goal of the study was to identify ways to increase military wives’ enrollment in higher education. The information learned from the study was distributed to military personnel who were directly in contact with family support groups and service agencies whose goal was to provide soldier readiness services. Research Questions The questions addressed through the study were: 1a. Do significant differences exist in demographic variables between women who are enrolled and those not enrolled in higher education? 1b. What demographic factors in combination predict military spouse enrollment in higher education? 2. What are the reasons that women who are married to active duty military members have left higher education? Do significant differences exist between women who are enrolled and those not enrolled in higher education? 3. What supports or services would encourage a military spouse’s return to higher education? Do significant differences exist between women who are enrolled and those not enrolled in higher education? 4. What are the most significant variables in combination that determine the likelihood of a military spouse being enrolled in higher education? To answer these questions, I distributed a survey to nontraditional, female students who were married to active duty military personnel. I attempted to identify the reasons that they dropped out of higher education prior to achieving their intended goal, as well as to discover resources and supports that would assist them in re-enrolling in higher education. I used an action research model and a mixed methods research technique. Stringer (1999) concluded that action research is a tool used to investigate a problem and to work within a professional society to help better the lives of the participants. Ferrance (2000)

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defined the components of action research as “empowerment of participants, collaboration through participation, acquisition of knowledge, and social change” (p. 8). Ferrance noted that the following steps are followed within the action research model: “Identification of problem area, collection and organization of data, interpretation of data, action based on data and reflection” (p. 9). Utilizing the model by Ferrance (2000), the problem area was identified as women who are married to active duty personnel who have attempted but have not completed their goal of a degree from the higher education setting. A survey was distributed to gather demographic information, as well as information pertaining to early departure, and supports and services that may assist the women in returning to higher education. Survey research was conducted, as surveys are assessment tools that can be utilized with a large group of individuals (Neuman, 2002). The final stage of the research was to consolidate data and examine the needs of the women in order to make recommendations to the stakeholders who were providing financial and emotional support to military spouses. The findings from the study were made available to the leaders of military installations that provide services and supports to family members while they are stationed overseas in the Kaiserslautern Military Community. Limitations of the Study A limitation was that the participants included only those living in the KMC and not in other outlying European-based military installations. The research focused only on women who were 25 years and older, therefore excluding the younger female spouse, as the spouse under the age of 25 does not meet the profile of the nontraditional student (Moore, W. Y. C., 1985). The final limitation of the study was that data collected only included participants who were attending meetings and community gatherings at which the survey

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was distributed. This collection process could have eliminated a portion of potential participants. Chapter Summary College enrollments were projected to climb from 2000 to 2010, with evidence of a national trend of an increase in female, nontraditional students attending college (U.S. Department of Education, 2006). Over 7,000 female spouses are living in the Kaiserslautern Military Community, and scholarship money allocated for higher education for spouses of active duty service members has not been fully utilized (AERA, 2006). The Quadrennial Quality of Life Review (2009) reported that only 1 in 5 military spouses feel they have fulfilled their educational goals, and that 87% of these spouses have listed education as a personal goal to achieve. The attrition rate for nontraditional female students is higher than that of traditional students by more than 10%, on average. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES; U.S. Department of Education, 2005) reported that nontraditional students are at higher risk for leaving a higher education institution without a degree than their traditional student peers. It was my goal to determine the reasons that women who have started higher education have not completed their desired level of education. Additionally, I identified key supports and services that would assist them in returning to the higher education setting.

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CHAPTER TWO LITERATURE REVIEW In this chapter, a review of the literature is presented that includes the following: (a) a history of the higher education system, (b) statistics related to female spouses of active duty military members, (c) military scholarship and educational opportunities, (d) military spouse employment, (e) characteristics of the adult learner, (f) the nontraditional learner, (g) the female adult learner, (h) retention in higher education, and (i) retention of female students. The purpose of this literature review is to provide the reader with an understanding of adult, nontraditional females who are married to active duty military members in an attempt to identify why they dropped out of higher education prior to meeting their educational goal and to identify supports and services that could assist them in returning to the higher education setting. A History of the Higher Education System The current higher education system is the result of past historical events and many ongoing transformations. Altbach (1999) concluded that while many influences have helped shape today’s universities, it was the European model, first established in Italy and then France at the end of the 12th century, that led to the development of the current university system today. This system has been modeled in many regions of the world. The first three colleges in the British colonies of America were Harvard University, William and Mary, and Yale University (Rudolph, 1991). During the 17th century, the college institutions were religiously based and had the sole purpose of training ministers to serve congregations (Geiger, 1999). Geiger explained that the typical student who enrolled in these universities came from a highly successful and prominent family and was generally male.

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The 18th century brought changes to the higher education arena. Geiger (1999) stated that during the colonial years, curriculum changed from a strictly religious foundation to students being offered a more liberal and functional education. Lucas (1994) reported that throughout the Revolutionary War, money was not disbursed for the needs of higher education, and housing units and meal halls were often abandoned or occupied by soldiers of the war. Veysey (1965) reported that, from 1800 to 1850, over 200 degree-granting institutions were opened, and steady growth continued throughout the century. During the 19th century universities grew steadily and began to employ full-time faculty instead of teaching practitioners, and in order to become a full-time faculty member, one had to hold a bachelor’s degree. “The average institution in 1870 had 10 faculty and 98 students; in 1890, these figures had grown to just 16 faculty and 157 students; but in 1910 they increased to 38 faculty and 374 students” (Geiger, 1999, p. 270). Slosson (1910) found that the addition of programs in engineering, forestry, health-related areas, mining, and forestry, as well as medicine and law, helped universities to grow during the 19th century. Meyer and Schofer (2005) concluded that the 20th century incorporated positive changes into the higher education arena, and the rate of growth became accelerated in most countries. President Harry S. Truman brought a group of appointed educational and civic leaders together and asked that they focus their attention on ways to incorporate educational opportunities for all citizens. Formed in 1946, this group, headed by George F. Zook, developed the commissioner’s report, Higher Education for Democracy, which provided guidelines for promoting increased participation in higher education (Reuben & Perkins, 2007). The Golden Age, or the years between 1945 and 1970, led to increased numbers of students attending colleges and universities. Geiger (1999) stated that growth and increased

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enrollments had much to do with the soldiers returning to college, with the government backing their educational tuition by implementing the G.I. Bill. Thelin (1996) credited the increase in enrollments to the development of multicampus university systems. As several colleges joined together to form one large university, more diverse students applied to attend. A final development that led to more students attending higher education was allowing students to complete their first 2 years of a degree program at a community college level with automatic transfer directly into a 4-year university program. The final years prior to the 1990s also led to great change. Thelin (1996) described the importance of the Pell grant and guaranteed student loans as major contributing factors to growth that were identified with these years. Other beneficial laws were noted by Thelin, including the Title IX program that allowed women to gain access to sports programs, as well as improving the accessibility of nontraditional female occupations such as medicine, law, and doctoral programs. By 1990, Section 504 of the Vocational Rehabilitation Act had further encouraged diversity on the campus by providing guidelines for educational institutions to serve students with unique abilities. According to experts in the NCES (U.S. Department of Education, 2007), over 17.5 million students attend higher education institutions. Statistics Related to Female Spouses of Active Duty Military Members The U.S. Department of Defense (2009) reported the following approximate figures of active duty service members: 548,000 Soldiers, 332,000 Sailors, 187,893 Marines, 323,000 Airmen, and 41,000 Coast Guardsmen. In addition, the report indicated that approximately half of the active duty personnel were married, and of those who were married, approximately half had children. Women who are married to an active duty service member today face numerous challenges on a daily basis. Historically, military spouses stayed home and assumed the role

Full document contains 157 pages
Abstract: The American College Testing Program (ACT) reported that approximately 48% of students who enroll in college depart after their first year. Nontraditional students have a higher departure rate than traditional students. One such nontraditional group of students consists of female spouses of military personnel. These spouses are frequently involved in unexpected relocation, family separation, remote tours of service, long-term separation from extended families, and residence in foreign countries. The literature reports that approximately 87% of these spouses list education as a personal goal. This study examined the enrollment in and departure from higher education programs by female spouses of military personnel. The study used a mixed-methods, action-oriented research model, gathering data via a 27-item survey. Respondents were 151 female spouses of active duty military members, 25 years of age or older, who had discontinued their education in a college or university setting. The respondents reported that they had left higher education because of having children, frequency of moves, financial reasons, no time for school, job demands, and the absence of degree programs in their new location. They identified supports and services that would assist them in returning to higher education: flexible course times, more frequent course offerings, better financial assistance, improved course offerings, and improved career counseling. Study results will be shared with stakeholders involved in funding, course and program selection, and military base support services, with the intent to assist in providing appropriate resources to help female military spouses to achieve their higher education goals. Key Words: Women, Higher Education, Military Spouse, Retention, Nontraditional Student