By Andrea Johnson
The Razorback Reporter
Thirty-four percent of military-affiliated students last year at the UofA were women. Even though men make up the majority of that population, a national report shows that women veterans are more likely than men to pursue and complete a college education.
A 2015 U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs report showed that 44.3 percent of women veterans enrolled in college compared to 36.5 percent of men. Women also had a higher graduation rate with a bachelor’s (20.7 percent) or advanced degree (13.8 percent). Among men veterans, 15.9 percent earned bachelor’s degrees and 10.7 percent earned advanced degrees.
Women represented about 9.4 percent of veterans in 2015, according to the most recent Women’s Veteran Report.
The higher percent of women veterans enrolling could be attributed to the their being younger than the male veteran population, according to the report. More women veterans fell within the youngest age group of ages 17-24 than men. The median age of female veterans in 2015 was 50 while for men it was 65.
Carrie Mize, a junior at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith, served in the Army for four years before settling in Fort Smith in 2008. She worked at a day care center and as a stay-at-home mom until she decided to use her veterans benefits to pursue a college degree in early childhood education, she said.
At age 31, she decided to enroll at UAFS in 2015. Because she did not finish high school, she feared failure at the college level, she said. But her ability to cover all college expenses using her Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits and the state-sponsored Academic Challenge Scholarship for non-traditional students motivated her to try.
“It would be silly not to use (benefits),” Mize said. “I had to build up the courage to go back, but I did have the money.”
Finding balance between being a mom of three children, a wife and a college student became her greatest challenge, she said. After a couple semesters and late-night study sessions, she thinks she has figured it out. Her husband commutes to work in Fayetteville, and she credits him for helping her succeed.
The same determination that kept her going in the Army helps her persevere toward graduation, Mize said.
“I’m an overachiever and I’m scared of failure,” she said. “I wasn’t going to fail. I was going to push through it and make it to the end.”
Jovanna Lopez, a freshman at Northwest Arkansas Community College, served four and a half years in the Army before beginning her college education this fall.
As a senior in high school, she did not feel prepared to pursue higher education, she said. She enlisted in November 2011, graduated from Rogers Heritage High School in May 2012 and left for training the following August.
“I was kind of the one who wasn’t expected to do it, so it was kind of fun to do something that wasn’t expected of me,” Lopez said.
On the NWACC campus, Lopez finds it difficult to determine who affiliates with the military, she said.
Clues such as a military patch or American flag on a cap, bag or tattoo helps identify affiliated people, but she does not see many women “going out of their way to do something with the military or show that they were in the military,” Lopez said.
This semester, 409 military-affiliated students enrolled at NWACC – 80 are female – said Dianna Portillo, director of Veteran Resources at NWACC.
Lopez also receives benefits through a Post 9/11 GI Bill that covers her education costs. She tried earning course credit through online classes but decided the classroom environment fit her learning style better, she said.
Katie Rose Martin, a second-year student at the UA School of Law, served in the Army, 2009-2014, while completing her bachelor’s degree through the online American Military University. She completed eight-week courses without breaks and finished a four-year degree program in two years, she said.
While serving in the Army, her undergraduate education costs were covered. As a law student, her costs are covered through Vocational Rehabilitation benefits, she said.
Martin joined the military for education and health benefits and to gain structure in her life, she said. Before she joined, she made poor decisions and lacked direction in life, but her military experiences helped her mature.
Earning her bachelor’s degree while serving in the Army proved to Martin that she could accomplish more than others might expect of her, she said.
“I know from the military that if I focus and have a goal and just keep that in mind – whatever that goal is – I can accomplish it while at the same knowing that I do have limitations,” Martin said.
The UA student population might comprise more military-affiliated female students than reported, but enrolling UA students are not required to designate military affiliation, just as students may choose whether to identify their race or ethnicity, said Erika Gamboa, director of the UA Veterans Resource and Information Center. At the UofA, 1,382 students self-identified as a military-affiliated student last year.
The 2016 UA female student population is 52 percent of the average total population of 26,154, according to enrollment reports. The preliminary enrollment report for fall 2017 showed continued majority-female enrollment at 52 percent.
By 2043, women are projected to make up 16.3 percent of all living Veterans – a projected 2.4 million, according to a VA report. Last year, the population of women Veterans reached 2.05 million, with 21,361 1iving in Arkansas.
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