Skip navigation
EAB Logo Navigate to the EAB Homepage Navigate to EAB home

Do your academic programs meet military students' needs and preferences?

September 23, 2022, By Natalie Ken, Research Analyst

Students affiliated with the military, including active-duty military, veterans, and those serving in the reserves or National Guard, continue to be an important population for colleges and universities. A study published by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) found 6.10% of all undergraduate students and 6.70% of all graduate students were affiliated with the military as of 2016 (the NCES will release their newest findings about the size of the military student population later this year).

Like other adult learner populations, our research shows that military students are more likely to prioritize shorter completion times and alignment to their post-service career when choosing a program. But there are key differences among military subpopulations—and institutions should adjust their recruitment strategies accordingly to best attract, enroll, and serve this audience.


Meeting Military Subpopulations’ Needs

Military students make enrollment decisions based, in part, on their stage of service—for this reason, schools should consider the demographic characteristics of their local and regional military populations to inform program design and marketing.

For example, students currently serving in the military often use their educational benefits to advance ranks within the military. They prioritize time to completion when selecting a degree program in order to achieve promotion quickly. Active-duty military also seek flexibility in the form of multiple start dates and easy course drops due to the need to potentially relocate or stop-out.

Veterans account for the largest group of military-affiliated students, and their motivations vary from those of many active-duty military members. Veterans and other military students looking towards civilian life most value a program’s alignment with their career goals and typically seek programs that incorporate skills gained from their military experience.


Identifying Top Programs for Military Students

The disciplines military students pursue also vary by military experience. Our researchers analyzed undergraduate and graduate degree completions from the NCES National Postsecondary Student Aid Study by military type and field of study or major. When developing and marketing programs for these students, focusing on these fields could help attract active-duty and veteran students looking to earn a graduate degree.

Top graduate programs among active-duty military personnel include:

  1. Multi/interdisciplinary studies
  2. Parks, recreation, and fitness studies
  3. Security and protective services
  4. Business, management, and marketing
  5. Natural resources and conservation

Top graduate programs among veterans—who account for the largest group of military-affiliated students—include:

  1. Security and protective services
  2. Criminology
  3. International relations and affairs
  4. Business, management, and marketing
  5. Theology and religious vocations

Among graduate-level military students, security and protective services and business, management, and marketing programs are most popular. Top job titles that security and protective services graduates pursue include “security engineer” and “quantitative risk analyst.” Top job titles that business, management, and marketing program graduates go on to include “project manager” and “financial analyst.” Unsurprisingly, many of these roles relate directly back to students’ military experience.

Our team also reviewed degree completions at the undergraduate level. Top undergraduate programs among active-duty military personnel include:

  1. Transportation and materials moving
  2. Criminology
  3. Security and protective services
  4. Social sciences, other
  5. Computer and information sciences

By contrast, veterans most commonly pursue the following undergraduate programs:

  1. Transportation and materials moving
  2. Mechanic and repair technologies
  3. Geography
  4. Computer and information sciences
  5. Security and protective services

Among undergraduate military students, security and protective services and transportation and materials moving programs are the most popular. Graduates of security and protective services graduates commonly work in “security engineer” and “information security analyst” roles. Transportation and materials moving program graduates go onto jobs such as “supply chain managers” and “logistics managers.”

Consider marketing programs such as criminal justice, security studies, and forensic science to military populations, given that security and protective services programs are among top programs for both active-duty military and veterans at the graduate and undergraduate levels. And of course, ensure these programs are designed to meet the unique needs of not only adult learners but military-affiliated students in particular.

Natalie Ken

Research Analyst

Read Bio

More Blogs


3 things you need to know about the shifting adult learner market

When it comes to enrolling the "responsible" generation in continuing education programs, learn three higher ed marketing truths…
Adult Education Blog

How Houston Baptist University tripled graduate student enrollment

Despite facing enrollment challenges ranging from incomplete applications to a hurricane, Houston Baptist University has significantly grown their…
Adult Education Blog

The campaign strategy that helped one graduate program see a 4.6x increase in applicants

Learn how direct mail can help your recruitment marketing messages stand out to college students, increase the effectiveness…
Adult Education Blog