From the top, the 2015 undergraduate veteran count U.S. News’s top ranked most highly selective colleges: Yale, four; Harvard, unknown; Princeton, one; Williams, one.
So what? Every day this slap in the face to the potential of men and women who have served the nation in war rolls right down to my door at Bunker Hill Community College (which has about 500 veterans). These are men and women who too often believe the message sent by the top four -- that veterans can’t do the work at selective colleges. I do not tell these men and women they should go to these colleges. I do suggest they take a look. That suggestion is a hard sell. Isn’t a point of education, most highly selective colleges, everyone, to show students how to test their limits?
The big picture here: more than one million veterans have used or are using the 2008 Post-9/11 GI Bill.
More than the most selective salute and follow the big four listed above. The American Association of Community Colleges has no recent or planned programs I could find. AACC President Walter Bumphus did not reply to queries for clarification. The American Council on Education, however, front and center on its web page, has an invitation to a free webinar at 2 p.m. EST tomorrow, “Preparing Military Veterans for Leadership and Success in Higher Education.” The talk is by the leaders of the Warrior-Scholar Project, an astonishing free academic boot camp for veterans that blows the roof off the generally low expectations we, the people, have for low-income students generally.
John Around Him, a Lakota Sioux in my very first section of College Writing I, a U.S. Army veteran who drove a tank in the invasion of Baghdad, handed in a paper I couldn’t improve. I suggested he check out Dartmouth. He has graduated from Dartmouth. He is teaching at-risk high school students, which he once was, just what he wanted to do when he first arrived at Bunker Hill. When he has visited other veterans at Bunker Hill to encourage them, I often ask if he remembers when I first suggested he check out Dartmouth. John smiles and turns to the other veterans. “I do remember,” he says. “I thought Professor Sloane was out of his (expletive deleted) mind.”
The sachems and panjandrums and powers at Yale, Harvard, Princeton and certainly Williams, where I went, seem to agree that I am out of my (expletive deleted) mind. That’s because I keep objecting to their baseless, lazy and continued public slap in the face of all the student veterans I know. And because I object to institutions with tax-free endowments collecting dividends and gains to spend on luxurious buildings while off-loading the harder work, with prejudice, to underfunded public community colleges.
Columbia University’s School of General Studies continues on the good side as the leader in reaching out to veterans. This fall, 408. Read for yourself this essay by one of their student veterans. Georgetown enrolls 58. At Wesleyan University, the number of undergraduate veterans has risen from two to 11 to 22. Wesleyan joined the Posse Foundation Veterans Program, which helps Wesleyan find, prepare and enroll 10 veteran freshmen each fall.
Vassar College, new to the list, was the first selective college to join Posse and now has 30 undergraduate veterans. And Dartmouth, with 17 veterans and always a leader in encouraging undergraduate veterans, will enroll its first Posse in September 2016. The Posse colleges, then, enrolling 10 new veterans each year, will have 40 undergraduate veterans. Keep in mind this year: Yale, four; Harvard, unknown; Princeton, one; and Williams, one.
I can’t say exactly how this year’s total, 643, compares with previous years because this year the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Rochester, Cornell, Harvard, Swarthmore and Oberlin had no answers or declined to reply to many requests. The saddest mystery is that every year so many of the self-described most highly selective colleges have no interest in the number of undergraduate veterans enrolled. Until I ask, almost none have made a count of their own. Penn hasn’t counted and reported that no one would be counting for another week or two.
So what? This lack of interest means at least that most presidents at these most highly selective colleges have no plans to welcome veterans with dinner or a cookout. Most troubling is the possibility that these colleges, then, have no idea if individual veterans need help on the torrent of paperwork to access GI Bill benefits or the obstacles within the VA health system.
Penn and the rest might take a professional-development trip to Rhode Island to visit Brown. The most enthusiastic, forward-thinking statements this year are from Karen McNeil, of Brown's Office of Student Veterans and Commissioning Programs.
“We have 10 undergraduate veteran students, which makes them 0.25% of the student body,” McNeil said in an email. “But, on the bright side, five of those students are new this year, so there is progress being made, and I'm hopeful these numbers will be improving fast and far.” She added a simple IT step that the other colleges surveyed should check out. This year, again, several colleges sent last-minute revisions to their veteran counts. “Our veterans are specially coded in our registrar's computer systems, so we know exactly who they are and can track retention and graduation rates.”
Also new on the landscape this year is the growing numbers of groups working to give veterans the confidence to apply to selective colleges.
Beth Morgan, director of Service to School (S2S), reports that 167 veterans planning to transfer to four-year colleges in 2016 and 2017 have accepted the free admission and application advising S2S offers. S2S advisers in past years have helped 127 veterans win admission to top business schools and eight to top law schools.
“S2S really jumped into the undergraduate space this past admissions cycle because this was an area of great need,” Morgan said in an email. “Helping active-duty service members get into the best school possible to maximize their GI Bill benefits is our mission.” Twenty veterans helped by S2S are undergraduates this fall at colleges including Yale, Harvard, Johns Hopkins, Dartmouth, University of Pennsylvania, USC and Columbia, according to Morgan.
Other news this year is the number of veterans who are succeeding in rigorous academic programs. This is evidence to begin a rebuttal of the belief expressed once to me by an Ivy League president: “Veterans can’t do the work.”
At the urging of William Treseder, a Stanford Marine veteran, Stanford added a free, six-credit program -- called Stanford 2 to 4 -- for veterans at community colleges to its summer school. The program immerses veterans in the academic skills required for success in college. Ten veterans, including two from Bunker Hill, attended last summer. This summer, 2016, will be the third summer for the Stanford program. Stanford staff report that veterans are succeeding.
More than 20 undergraduate veterans, too, have succeeded in the nine-week summer Research Experiences for Undergraduates at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Kit Parker, a Harvard professor, U.S. Army major and two-time Afghanistan veteran, runs the labs that host the program. Veterans, many from Bunker Hill, have spent the summer working alongside … students from most highly selective colleges. Harvard has invited all the BHCC veterans to return in the fall to continue working in the labs. With a Harvard postdoc, one co-wrote a paper that they presented at an academic conference. That veteran is studying engineering at Northeastern.
The Posse Foundation Veterans Program, with 50 undergraduate veterans enrolled so far, is succeeding. Catharine Hill, president of Vassar, and Debbie Biall, founder of the Posse Foundation, wondered if the Posse model -- cohorts or posses of about 10 prepared low-income, urban high school students attending a selective college together -- would work for veterans. Vassar this year has three veteran posses -- freshman, sophomore and junior -- and Wesleyan two. (Disclaimer: Hill is a friend, and we have worked together on veterans’ issues.)
“Volunteering to serve in our country's military services shouldn't preclude attending some of our most selective colleges and universities,” said Hill in an email. “These schools offer a superb education, with high graduation rates, for which our veterans should be eligible. We are in our third year of the Posse program, and these students have been a great addition to our student body.”
One hundred veterans over the past three summers have completed the two-week academic boot camp that the Warrior-Scholar Project offers on the campuses of selective colleges. Faculty from the hosting colleges teach the seminars. “We track our graduates,” said the program’s founder, Jesse Reising. “One hundred percent who have completed WSP and started school have stayed in school.” I’ve watched veterans debate Thucydides and de Tocqueville.
I asked the colleges in the survey this year, too, about recognizing Veterans Day. These universities -- Yale, Princeton, Washington University, Brown, Dartmouth, Duke, Johns Hopkins, Northwestern, Stanford, Chicago -- have substantial ceremonies for Veterans Day. The Princeton ceremony will close with a benediction from the university’s Muslim chaplain. Columbia veterans also have a float in the New York City Veterans Day Parade. The universities do have veterans, often hundreds, as graduate students. (A bachelor’s degree and a good academic record are required for these graduate schools. My interest is in the veterans who have not been to college.)
Trinity College will have “Veterans Day: A Sacred Conversation,” a discussion between the college chaplain and Trinity students who have served in the armed forces. Carleton reported that the chaplain sends an all-campus email inviting students, faculty and staff to light a candle for veterans in the chapel. Williams said it might run a story on the single veteran there on the college web page.
And this year I asked a veteran at one of the most highly selective colleges what he makes of the potential for veterans at these colleges. “I would challenge all of my fellow veterans at every level of education to strive to do one better than where they are at present,” said Chad Rairie, a Marine veteran with two Afghanistan deployments who is vice president of the Dartmouth Undergraduate Veterans Association.
“If veterans are at a junior college, apply to a four-year. If they are at a four-year, apply to transfer to a better one. If you don’t think you will get in, fill out the application anyway. The worst that can happen is someone tells you no,” Rairie said. “But if the rare opportunity should arise where you are accepted to a school like Dartmouth, seize the opportunity and don’t look back! Remember, you miss 100 percent of the shots you never take. So take a shot.”
For next year, I’ll bet then on the applications of 167 veterans in the S2S pipeline, on the 100 alumni from Warrior-Scholar, and on all from Stanford 2 to 4 and the Harvard REU to flood these laggard most highly selective colleges with applications. I’ll hope these applications, packed with evidence that veterans can do the work, may open some doors.