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Veterans at Selective Colleges, 2017

Wick Sloane’s annual survey shows that 36 highly selective colleges are enrolling 722 former military service members this fall. That’s more than last year, but still an embarrassment, he argues.

November 10, 2017
 
 

Imagine: the Yale-Harvard football game, to be played a week from tomorrow, without enough players to field two teams.

Well, Yale University this fall has 12 undergraduate veterans, Harvard University six, Princeton University five and Williams College five. That’s 28 undergraduate veterans, short of the 44 students needed to field one offensive and one defensive squad each for a football game. The institutions' cumulative total last year was 18.

Progress? I wish I knew. Add the five veterans at Williams’s chief rival, Amherst College? Still 11 to go for a football game.

Attention: William Lee, chief of the Harvard Corporation; Donna Dubinsky, chair at Yale; Kathryn Hall at Princeton; Cullen Murphy at Amherst; Michael Eisenson at Williams. Trustees, not presidents, are in charge at your schools. Shirley Tilghman, there you are on the Harvard Corporation and on the board at Amherst. We failed in conversations on veterans while you were president of Princeton. I apologize, and I will persist.

Your schools must do better educating undergraduate veterans. Enough.

I invite you all to meet me for coffee at 10 a.m., Monday, Nov. 13, 2017, in the main lobby at Bunker Hill Community College, where I use my degrees from two of your institutions, to see if we all can do better here. I will invite Diane Randall, head of Friends Committee on National Legislation, the Quaker peace lobby in Washington, to clerk our meeting.

More than any faith leader, perhaps more than any citizen, Randall works to diminish all the U.S. lets its leaders squander on wars and the military because our educations in problem solving have failed us all. Orange line, Community College stop. Happy to arrange parking. RSVP wick.sloane@insidehighered.com.

All of you: The Vietnam War by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick in 10 painful episodes just hammered we, the people, again with the sins and errors of many of your alumni regarding that war. Yale graduates led the way invading Iraq and Afghanistan.

As a goal as the nation's great colleges, why not produce graduates who can solve problems without sending other people’s children to war? Our government solves problems by firing drones and dropping bombs. Now, more and more, other people pick up assault rifles to settle their differences, even in churches. And instead of helping my students write a better job letter, I must learn Combat Breathing to protect me from active shooters?

None of you will go the extra mile to welcome the men and women who fight back home to re-enter society? The extra support veterans might need is no more than the effort than the tutors, the dietitians, the trainers your colleges provide to athletes.

Combat Breathing is what I am trying as I face my annual reckoning of the pitifully few undergraduate veterans at 36 of the nation’s self-proclaimed most highly selective colleges. I learned the technique Tuesday over the lunch hour, as a way to lower my heart rate to make better decisions in high-stress situations. This was on the job at Bunker Hill Community College, where I arrived 10 years ago to teach expository writing. Professional development -- I was at an excellent seminar, Civilian Response to Active Shooter Events.

Combat Breathing? The seminar included a surprise loud burst of recorded gunfire. Crazy me, perhaps. Hearing the shots and learning how to evade gunfire made think of the 400-plus veterans enrolled this fall at Bunker Hill and those I have taught and worked with since 2006. Thinking of the veterans made me angry, again, at how few attend these highly selective colleges. Learning how to evade gunfire is scary. Every week, active shooters in the U.S. seem to bring battlefields closer than I had imagined.

This year? At these 36 most highly selective colleges, there are 722 undergraduate veterans versus 641 last year. This is against the nearly 900,000 veterans (including graduate students) who are using the post-9/11 GI Bill and Yellow Ribbon Program this year. Cornell University -- more later -- is the headline, with a commitment to increase the number of undergraduate veterans from 24 this year to 100.

As I write, we, the people, have a bellicose president of the United States threatening new wars almost weekly, with authorized/unauthorized U.S. troops dying even in Africa for reasons I can’t figure out. Do we, the people, have any idea what these invisible wars mean to the men and women we send to fight? How loud in this column, then, should cheers and praise be for the very few commendable institutional efforts toward veterans?

Combat Breathing? Lowering my stress? I am angry as I describe, again, the relentless neglect of those we send to serve in uniform by the very institutions who educate so many who become leaders in government and business. If these leaders who as students were freed from going to war by a volunteer military never have a chance to meet and know the veterans who have been to war, if these future leaders have never listened to a volunteer who at their own age was blown up by an improvised explosive device and spent weeks in Walter Reed Army Medical Center, what will these leaders think before sending other people’s children off to war?

How few is this 722 total? Returning to college football as context, six weeks after asking these selective colleges for the number of undergraduate veterans, I am in my deadline scramble, checking and rechecking. Many colleges need time to provide the number of undergraduate veterans. Compare that with googling “Yale, football team, 2017” and one click to the roster, including height, weight and hometown. (Note: I work with the news offices of these colleges, who do all they can to help find this number that only this obscure columnist seems to want each fall.)

With help from a friend who is a researcher, I learned this year that we, the people, can look up on the U.S. Department of Education databases the number of football players at many of the nation’s colleges.

How many undergraduate veterans per college? Not quite. The numbers combine veterans receiving Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits with veteran dependents using those same benefits. As a matter of federal interest, we spent $5.2 billion in the 2016 fiscal year on Post-9/11 GI Bill tuition and fee payments.

I do commend the good news from Cornell. That aside, there have been very, very few changes year to year in this sad story. Growth is at Vassar College, Wesleyan University and Dartmouth College. These joined the new Posse Veterans Program, committing to 10 qualified veterans in each new freshman class, or 40 undergraduate veterans total. These three, however, have always been looking for veterans.

Columbia University stays at the top, with 422 in the School of General Studies, which is not a traditional extension program with limited choices. Columbia veterans can take any Columbia course. Georgetown University's enrollment remains high with 64. Aside from the Posse schools, only Cornell, 24, and Stanford University, 23, pass total undergraduate veteran enrollment of more than 20. The University of Virginia, not part of this survey, has joined Posse, with the first Posse veterans to arrive next fall. That will be another 40 spots for undergraduate veterans.

This action announced by Cornell last spring was met with deafening quiet in higher education. A veteran at a meeting at Cornell emailed me. With the cost of enrolling a veteran net of the GI Bill/Yellow Ribbon program at about $25,000 per year, this is an institutional budget spending increase of about $1,875,000 by Cornell. That’s huge by one institution. This fall, I asked the admissions dean at another Ivy League school if the Cornell jump to 100 had caused others to reconsider their low number.

“I didn’t even know Cornell had done that,” he said.

The story behind the Cornell effort to increase to 100 veteran spots took a few tries, pushing past modesty, to find. With 24 undergraduate veterans this fall, Cornell is already ahead of most others in the survey. Going to 100?

“This initiative addresses a grossly underrepresented population of students who have made a laudable commitment to the nation, often entering the military directly out of high school, and maturing and growing through their service,” said Michael Kotlikoff, Cornell’s provost, who led the effort at the urging of Cornell students. “This group of more mature students is often overlooked; my estimate of the composition of veteran students within the IvyPlus institutions is approximately 0.2 percent. If we can succeed in attracting more veterans to apply to Cornell, and if we can help them succeed in this rigorous academic environment, we will have added value to their lives that is perhaps commensurate to the service that they have provided to the country.”

Back to you, the trustees of Yale, Princeton, Harvard, Williams, Amherst. Is this thinking, this sense of public responsibility toward veterans by Cornell, a foreign idea to you all?

A look in the mirror is where I start these questions. Vietnam passed me by due to a trivial childhood injury. Later, with the draft long gone, I knew my children would not have to go to war. My adolescent remarks in front of the University of Hawaii administration building in 2003 were my effort to stop the invasion of Iraq. That I was all the protesters could find? The invasion went ahead.

Years later, veterans began showing up in my College Writing I classes at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston. As a person, never mind as a professor, I did not know how to respond to the horrors these veterans often wrote about. Again, as I have before in this column, I urge all to read Odysseus in America: Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming by Jonathan Shay. Combat trauma, I discovered, is 10 times worse than I had imagined. I cannot imagine how anyone knowing this would ever think that sending other people’s children off to war solves anything. I wish I could assign the book to every college president, to every college student and to all college faculty members.

Then and now, trustees and administrators at too many highly selective colleges still do not understand why I am asking these questions. These colleges have sophisticated recruiting teams and travel all over the country and the world to find students. These colleges have exactly as many veterans as they want to have, despite their assertions that veterans either do not want to attend or, worse, cannot do the work.

Programs for veterans including Warrior Scholar, the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences summer Research Experiences for Undergraduates, the Stanford Summer School six-credit 2 to 4 Veterans Accelerator, Service to School, and the Posse Foundation have all found and begun preparing motivated and able veterans for academic success.

More colleges are looking for veterans. Amherst, Williams, Cornell, Yale, the University of Rochester, Mount Holyoke College, Georgetown, Brown University, MIT and Columbia have made recruiting visits to Bunker Hill this fall.

These veterans exist because we have wars. I believe that nonprofit private colleges, starting with students who do not face the draft due to a volunteer armed service, should feel a powerful sense of obligation to the people who volunteer to serve in these wars. After all, these schools are exempt from all sorts of local, state and federal taxes (though they'll possibly have slightly fewer exemptions if the new tax bill becomes law). Donations to the colleges for anything, including indoor golf nets and climbing walls, are tax deductible. Country clubs, after all, manage to fund their luxury with after-tax dollars. The acres of golf courses at country clubs generate property taxes to fund public schools.

I am a Quaker. My wish, my mission, is that great colleges impart an education so that their graduates can solve problems without sending other people’s children off to war.

  2013 Expanded 2014 total 2015 2016 2017
Amherst College 8 5 8 5 5
Bowdoin College          
Brown U 12 11 10 12 17
Bryn Mawr College 0 0 0 0 4
California Inst. of Tech.          
Carleton College 0 0 0 3 0
Columbia U School of General Studies n/a 360 408 375 422
Colorado College       3  
Cornell U 1     12 24
Dartmouth College 14   17 23 25
Duke U 1 1 2 0 1
Georgetown U 25 74 58 65 64
Harvard U   4   3 6
Johns Hopkins U 23 19 30 17 18
Massachusetts
Inst. of Tech.
2 0 1 4 10
 
Middlebury College          
Mount Holyoke College 0 2 4 2  
Northwestern U 14 19 11 15 15
Oberlin College 0     0 0
Pomona College 1 1 1 3 5
Princeton U 1 1 1 1 5
Rice U 1 0 0 0 0
Smith College 0 0 1 2 3
Stanford U   10 16 21 23
Swarthmore College 0     0  
Trinity College   10 4 4 0
U of Chicago          
U of Pennsylvania 35 35     14
U of Rochester 16        
Vanderbilt U       1  
Vassar College     30 32  
Washington U in St. Louis 20 21 13 12 6
Wellesley College* 2 2 1 0 2
Wesleyan U 2 11 22 30 38
Williams College 0 0 1 3 5
Yale U 2 3 4 11 12
Total 180 596 643 641 722

Blank means no reply.

*(Note: This article has been updated from an earlier version to correct the number of veterans at Wellesley College.)

Bio

Wick Sloane is an end user of a most highly selective education. He is a 2017 winner of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Governor’s Award for Excellence in Public Service. Follow him @WickSloane.

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