Veterans Deserve More From Higher Education

Another Veteran's Day approaches. Once again, those of us who lead America's colleges and universities are reminded of the over two million veterans who will have left the service and returned to civilian life over the next few years. We simply have not done enough for veterans who want to pursue higher education, especially at our nation's most selective institutions.

Veterans are currently overrepresented at for-profit schools and two-year community colleges. For some students, these may be exactly the right programs. But for others, the selective, private, non-profit liberal arts colleges and universities may be a significantly better option. We have more resources to devote to each student both inside and outside the classroom, higher retention and graduation rates and great success at sending students on to the best graduate and professional degree programs. A liberal arts education prepares students to think critically, communicate effectively and solve problems creatively. Being nimble intellectually in these ways is going to be important to the future success of all of our students.

This December, Vassar College will be admitting 10 young men and women through a new Posse Foundation program for veterans, to start classes at Vassar next fall in the Class of 2017. We will not only repeat this process over the following years, increasing our numbers of enrolled veterans, but we are also calling for an expansion of the Veterans Posse program at other selective colleges and universities.

Many of these same leading colleges and universities, including Vassar, have signed up in recent years for the Yellow Ribbon program, which supplements the educational benefits veterans already earn through the post-9/11 GI Bill. Most of us have not had great success recruiting veterans, and Vassar decided to move ahead by developing the Veterans Posse program. Vassar partnered with the Posse Foundation because of their success over the past two decades matching underrepresented students with selective colleges and universities through their traditional admissions program. Posse's team works to identify college applicants through a variety of community relationships and a well-developed nominations process. This is proving very effective, and not something each of our relatively small admission offices could easily replicate. And, the concept of sending a "posse" or cohort of 10 students to these schools as a way of improving retention, graduation and overall success seems very suited to veterans as well.

Some people, including veterans, may be surprised to learn that Vassar and other highly selective institutions are seeking out more veteran students. The truth is that we have been successfully recruiting students from broader and broader backgrounds for decades. In Vassar's case, we now have the most socioeconomically diverse student body in the college's history with nearly 60 percent of our students qualifying for the college's strictly need-based financial aid program. The result, as we intended, is that our students and faculty note a richer exchange of ideas and a wider range of viewpoints from people with more varied experiences.

It's notable that our Posse partnership won't be Vassar's first venture into educating veterans — and I'm not referring to the West Point cadets who liked to socialize with Vassar co-eds when we were still a women's college. For five years after World War II, the college enrolled more than 100 male vets, because the original GI Bill created more demand for higher education than there was classroom space. While some of these veterans eventually transferred to other colleges, we are proud to claim 16 of these men as Vassar grads.

Our hope is that this new program for veterans will expand to 10 institutions next year, and even more in the following years. The young men and women returning from military service in Iraq and Afghanistan have allowed our traditional students to go directly to college after high school without worrying about a draft. In return, we should now open our doors to these veterans. With close faculty-student interaction and mentoring, strong support services and Posse's proven track record, we have much to offer our country's veterans. And, we also know that we will benefit and learn much from them. While a four-year undergraduate education at a selective college or university may not be appropriate for all, a bachelor's degree from Vassar or a similar college or university would be a wonderful to way for many veterans to start their new lives.

Welcome home.


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