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On veterans. Presidents! Provosts! Heads up. Question to you in advance of my 2020 Veterans Day column on undergraduate veterans at self-described most highly selective colleges: How could the self-proclaimed greatest colleges and universities in the world start educating graduates who can and will solve problems without sending other people’s children to war?

Fair warming. Plenty of time to delegate. I will be back to you all in August 2020. To prime the discussion, I have already written to the presidents/provosts at Harvard, Yale, Williams and MIT, and I have sent each a copy of Odysseus in America -- Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming by Jonathan Shay. What problem is worth sending other people’s children, anyone, to war? Why these four? The cost of printer cartridges can bankrupt an obscure columnist. Not much left for books.

With a few clicks, however, all of you can blanket your campuses with “For Veterans, a Path to Healing ‘Moral Injury,’” by Aaron Pratt Shepherd, a New York Times op-ed. With a few more clicks, send everyone on your campuses the knock-your-breath-out excellent current MIT Technology Review -- the war and peace issue. By story and sidebar and graphics, consider how the U.S. and U.S. higher education research have marched to war, not peace.

“So what?” all ask me each year. Due to a trivial childhood injury, Vietnam passed me by. I could have enlisted. No excuse. A friend, made by accident not my initiative, is a U.S. Army colonel. He was deployed in Desert Storm and three times in Iraq. Once when the news confused me and I could not figure out what the U.S. was doing in Iraq, I emailed him and asked why he thought he was there.

The one-sentence reply will always be my lifetime shame. “I am here because you sent me,” he wrote. How could anyone with my most highly selective education be so dumb? The Constitution of the United States, Article 1, Section 8. Congress has the power “To declare war, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make rules concerning Captures on Land and Water.”

A Heartening Exception
In this companion column, Wick
Sloane looks at how Syracuse
University has sharply increased
its enrollment of veterans.

In the U.S., leaders who are graduates of these colleges and universities are too often those sending other people’s children to war. Better problem solving by these graduates might lead to fewer wars and might result in fewer veterans.

In the 2019 enrollment numbers, the Columbia University College of General Studies again leads with 477 undergraduate veterans. Columbia, then, accounts for 54 percent of the veterans at the 36 colleges surveyed. (Click here for Veterans Day news from Columbia.)

How I miss my friend the late Peter Awn, the Columbia Islamic scholar and emeritus dean who found a way through so many barriers to make possible at Columbia what any college could do. Of those colleges surveyed, the next highest is Georgetown with 42; Wesleyan, 35; Dartmouth, 34; Vassar, 32; Washington University in St. Louis, 32.

By contrast, Bunker Hill Community College, where I first met veterans struggling toward a college education, has more than 300 veterans this fall.

New this year is Syracuse University, with 140 undergraduate veterans and a total of 663 “military-connected” undergraduates including dependents, active duty and other military connected. (See a related column for my report on a visit to Syracuse last week.)

Columbia and Syracuse both have created national resource centers for veterans and military families. Click here for the Columbia Veteran Transition and Integration Center and here for the Syracuse Institute for Veterans and Military Families.

My sadness each year is how few colleges have the number -- the number of undergraduate veterans enrolled -- when I ask. Surveys went out at the start of October. I was still reminding and hectoring for replies last week. Does anyone at these laggard colleges care about these veterans?

The height, weight, hometown of a football player? Usually one click. My target is that most highly selective colleges will have as many undergraduate veterans as football players.

In September, at the start of school, 250 veterans, ROTC, their families and available Harvard University alumni who are veterans went to a cookout hosted by Harvard president Larry Bacow, whom I know and who has long been a champion of all low-income, first-generation students.

At the start of his presidency a year ago, Bacow did direct Harvard College to increase the number of veterans and community college transfers. I know because Harvard called me for advice. (No charge. My pleasure to volunteer for a place with a $40 billion endowment.)

The number of Harvard undergraduate veterans rose to 17 this year from fewer than 10 last year. A small step -- too small for Harvard -- but a breakthrough in most highly selective higher education. In the meantime, Harvard staff still bobbed and weaved and wiggled and only provided the number to me last Thursday. Veterans had already told me the number in September.

No one else knew until last week?

The same lags, again until Thursday, at Princeton. Weeks of official deferrals on providing the number. Finally, I asked Tyler Eddy, a marine veteran who is a Princeton junior majoring in astrophysical sciences. Eighteen, he told me. “An exciting increase from the five the year I was accepted.” Last Thursday I sent that number to Princeton, and within the hour Princeton confirmed I had the correct number.

For all the selective college officials and trustees who continue to whisper that veterans can’t do the work, I asked Eddy what he is working on. He replied, “Determining important measurables in solar energetic particle events.” How did he know to wonder? “I somehow luckily was paired with an amazing team here at Princeton studying space and heliophysics over the summer, and they’ve asked me to join them for the rest of my time here,” Eddy said.

Yale veterans, I learned, have a cookout every August. Twice I asked Yale if President Peter Salovey had attended. Twice, no reply. Yale had the number to me weeks ago.

So, Yale, 15; Harvard, 17; Princeton, 18; Amherst, 13; Williams, fewer than 10.

CalTech remains discouraging. I asked and asked and asked. At last, last week the number: no undergraduate veterans. In chasing the answer, I saw that CalTech is touting the addition to its Board of Trustees of retired Admiral Mike Mullen, former chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Good news, I thought. Mullen was eloquent in the veterans' session at the September 2009 White House Summit on Community Colleges. Mullen stressed what veterans can contribute and the need of the military to improve transitions of the military to college. Twice I asked CalTech if Mullen would be helping to enroll veterans. Twice, no reply.

At all the surveyed colleges again this year, the undergraduate veteran totals remain much, much closer in terms of total enrollments to zero than not. Excuses still abound from most highly selective colleges. For the whole picture, way beyond a column, I commend to all the 2015 Missing Perspectives: Servicemembers’ Transition from Service to Civilian Life, Data-Driven Research to Enact the Promise of the post-9/11 GI Bill, by Corri Zoli, Rosalinda Murray and Daniel Fay, at the Syracuse University Institute for Veterans and Military Families. From p. iii:

Many recounted the post-WWII GI Bill’s profound impact on American society as the impetus for enacting today’s post-9/11 GI Bill. Notably, however, after WWII, our nation’s veterans represented half of all college-age students in the U.S. … But today veterans barely represent 3 percent of all U.S. college students … Consider, for example, that post 9/11 veterans make up barely 1 percent of the total undergraduate students enrolled at the U.S. News “Top 20 Colleges and Universities in America.”

With few exceptions, Syracuse and Columbia being two, the whisperings continue to reflect what a then-Ivy League president once told me, with no data, in terms of the Ivies: “Veterans can’t do the work.” In September this year, I made my second visit to the Ivy League Veterans Council, looking for data. The meeting was at Dartmouth. President emeritus Jim Wright, a veteran Marine Corps enlisted man, told the 41 veterans from Ivy League colleges, “You enrich the campuses and the classrooms where you study.” Wright, a friend, was the first selective college president to reach out to veterans. Click here for the full text of Wright’s inspiring speech.

The majors from a poll of those Ivy veterans at Dartmouth: applied economics and management; cognitive science and linguistics; computer science; economics (3); education; English and economics; environmental studies (2); hotel administration; industrial labor relations; information science; international relations; mathematical and computational science; mechanical engineering; near-Eastern studies and government; philosophy; theatrical arts and performance studies; viticulture and enology; biology; physics; math.

I cannot figure out why so many doubts remain. Remember, colleges champion diversity. Veterans bring this diversity and GI Bill dollars.


For hope, for positive thinking, I checked with programs trying to build for veterans bridges from the service to college. For any looking for evidence that veterans can succeed at selective colleges, read on.

My favorite -- obscure columnists can have opinions -- is Warrior Scholar, a free-to-veterans 10-day summer academic program offered at more than a dozen colleges and universities each summer. Again and again on my visits, I have met veterans converted to the belief that yes, they can succeed at a top college. Course after course, summer after summer, veterans go from baffled to arguing about Thucydides in a morning.

I have watched this and spoken with Warrior Scholar alumni. Last summer, 253 veterans, the most ever, attended. More than 900 veterans have attended since the program opened in 2012. Many Warrior Scholar alumni are attending top-20 U.S. News liberal arts colleges, from Amherst to Yale.

Service to School (S2S) provides free undergraduate and graduate application counseling to military veterans. From the web landing page: “Our mission is to prepare transitioning military veterans for their next chapter of leadership by helping them gain admission to the best college or graduate school possible.” Veterans helping veterans navigate the new world of selective colleges is a good pathway. Veterans, like many nontraditional students, find college scary to confront. A friendly face, another veteran, helps.

Christine Schwartz, executive director, gave me the S2S results so far. For fall 2019, according to Schwartz, 178 veterans working with S2S enrolled as undergraduates at 72 colleges. These colleges include all of the Ivies; many of California’s top public universities, including Berkeley, UCLA and Cal Poly; state universities including the University of Michigan, the University of Virginia and the University of North Carolina; and liberal arts colleges including Pomona and Amherst. Since 2015, Schwartz continued, 571 undergraduate veterans working with S2S have enrolled at 155 different colleges.

Since fall 2013, 40 veterans from the Posse Foundation Veterans Program have completed bachelor’s degrees. "The scholars are getting into amazing graduate programs and landing really impressive jobs," said Marcus Fedler, a director at Posse. "We are already starting to hear about full-time offers being made to next year's graduates."

Posse veterans are attending or have completed graduate programs at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, the Duke University Fuqua School of Business, the Smith College School for Social Work and the California Institute of the Arts, reported Felder. “Others have entered (or re-entered) the civilian workforce and are currently working at industry-leading companies including Accenture, Booz Allen Hamilton, the Royal Bank of Canada and the U.S. Department of Commerce.”

Restrictions by the Department of Defense can prevent colleges and other organizations from contacting those serving in the military. Many, then, do not begin planning for college until after they are out of the military.

The College Board has made leaps of progress in the past year in providing information on college and education to service members. This year, the College Board asked the 39,000 service members taking the College Level Examination Program (CLEP) if they wanted to receive information about college and continuing their education. Bruce Shahbaz, who leads the project for the College Board, reported that so far, 5,000 service members have requested more information. The College Board is making this contact information available free of charge to colleges seeking to enroll veterans. So far, Shahbaz said, selective colleges, state colleges and flagships, and community colleges have signed up for the military contact information.

Two weeks ago, 40 of the 100 colleges in the American Talent Initiative met in Washington for the first one-day “Improving Access and Success for U.S. Military Veterans.” ATI seeks to help low-income and first-generation college students find and enroll at high-graduation-rate colleges, said longtime veterans’ advocate Catharine Hill, managing director of Ithaka S+R, an ATI partner.

What’s possible, then? More in the next column on Syracuse, which has 21 staff members devoted full-time to student veterans.

That the nation’s self-proclaimed top colleges and universities respect and care for and educate veterans is only the start of my project. Wars are a failure to solve problems by other means. I am Quaker. Peace on earth is my goal. Back to where this column began.

On veterans. Presidents! Provosts! Heads up. Question to you for my 2020 Veterans Day column on undergraduate veterans at self-described most highly selective colleges: How could the self-proclaimed greatest colleges and universities in the world start educating graduates who can and will solve problems without sending other people’s children to war?


Number of Undergraduate Veterans at Most Selective U.S. Colleges

  2013 Expanded 2014 Total 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019
Amherst College * * * * * * 13
Bowdoin College              
Brown U 12 11 10 12 17 17 21
Bryn Mawr College 0 0 0 0 * 0 *
California Inst. of Tech.             0
Carleton College 0 0 0 3 0    
Columbia U School of General Studies n/a 360 408 375 422 443 477
Colorado College       *   0 0
Cornell U 1     12 24 27 30
Dartmouth College 14   17 23 25 36 34
Duke U * * * 0 * * *
Georgetown U 25 74 58 65 64 41 42
Harvard U   *   * * * 17
Johns Hopkins U 23 19 30 17 18 * 5
Massachusetts * 0 * *      
Inst. of Tech. 10 11 12
Middlebury College           0  
Mount Holyoke College 0 * * *   0 0
Northwestern U 14 19 11 15 15 51 *
Oberlin College 0     0 0    
Pomona College * * * * * * *
Princeton U * * * * * 12 18
Rice U * 0 0 0 0 0  
Smith College 0 0 * * * * *
Stanford U   10 16 21 23 30 26
Swarthmore College 0     0      
Trinity College   10 * * 0    
U of Chicago             15
U of Pennsylvania 35 35     14 15 15
U of Rochester 16         20 15
Vanderbilt U       *     *
Vassar College     30 32   34 32
Washington U in St. Louis 20 21 13 12 * 10 32
Wellesley College * * * 0 * * *
Wesleyan U * 11 22 30 38 39 35
Williams College 0 0 * * * * *
Yale U * * * 11 12 10 15
Total 180 596 643 641 724 831 885

A blank cell means no reply
* means fewer than 10

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