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Emerging adult military-connected students express challenges transitioning into higher education: Implications for helping professionals

APA Citation:

Clary, K. L., & Byrne, L. (2023). Emerging adult military-connected students express challenges transitioning into higher education: Implications for helping professionals. Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 47(1), 22-37. https://doi.org/10.1080/10668926.2021.1925176

Abstract Created by REACH:

This qualitative study interviewed military-connected students (N = 16 Veterans or current Service members attending higher education; average age of 24) with high-risk substance use behaviors (i.e., excessive drinking, use of drugs other than alcohol and tobacco). Given the coping difficulties that often accompany high-risk substance use, interviews were used to understand the general challenges of military-connected students transitioning into higher education, and to identify strategies for the helping professionals supporting these students. Military-connected students reported difficulties connecting with others and planning their futures. Recommendations for helping professionals included using direct communication, connecting students to resources, and treating military-connected students as individuals.


Substance use

Branch of Service:

Marine Corps
Air Force

Military Affiliation:

Active Duty

Subject Affiliation:

Active duty service member


Adulthood (18 yrs & older)
Young adulthood (18 - 29 yrs)


Qualitative Study


Clary, Kelly Lynn, Byrne, Lucy


Emerging adult (EA; aged 18–29) military-connected students experience major developmental changes, often coupled with the transition into the civilian sector and higher education. This conglomeration may exacerbate anxiety, stress, and negative coping mechanisms, including substance use. Substance use rates are highest among EAs, across the lifespan. To our knowledge, limited research has looked at EA military-connected students’ transition into higher education during this developmental stage. We qualitatively interviewed 16 EA military-connected students who reported high-risk substance use behaviors. To our knowledge, no student veteran research study has considered this characteristic. This is important since military members are more likely to misuse substances and encounter related consequences than their civilian counterparts, and these developmental and transitional stressors put them at higher risk for misusing substances. In 74-minute interviews, we asked participants about (1) challenges transitioning into higher education and (2) techniques helping professionals should use to support EA military-connected students. Two coders employed Thematic Analysis to identify themes using NVivo. We found challenges include: (1) starting over, (2) unable to relate to others, (3) lacking a purpose or plan, (4) support system changes, and (5) people view you as only a veteran. EA military-connected students’ suggestions for helping professionals include: (1) use straightforward communication, (2) show a genuine interest, (3) offer guidance on creating a support system, and (4) treat me as a human, not only a veteran. This study provides translational examples for helping professionals such as encouraging involvement in military and veteran community organizations to promote a sense of belonging.

Publisher/Sponsoring Organization:

Taylor & Francis

Publication Type:

REACH Publication

Author Affiliation:

School of Social Work, Texas State University, KLC
Department of Psychology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, LB


military-connected students, higher education, substance use

View Research Summary:

REACH Publication Type:

Research Summary

REACH Newsletter:

  December 2021

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