I recently read a blog entry
that gave me much pause. The gist of the entry is that many of the elite colleges and universities in the United States enroll essentially no undergraduate students who have worn the uniform of the country, despite the new GI Bill and despite the statement by almost everyone across the political spectrum that "I support the troops."
I hope the information in this blog entry is wrong, but I fear not because the writer did a careful job contacting colleges and universities for the pertinent information. So, it was learned that Harvard's undergraduate study body includes only two veterans, matching that of Yale, whereas Princeton and Williams College each enroll zero veterans.
Said another way, given that these sorts of schools likely enroll international students from Israel, South Korea, Brazil, China, Germany, Norway, Switzerland, and other nations requiring some form of military service for all young men and in some cases young women, it is quite likely that the elite colleges and universities in the United States have many more international veterans in their student bodies than those of the homegrown variety.
What's going on? Perhaps some of the veterans who return to college have not set their sights on these sorts of schools for financial reasons; reimbursed tuition from the new GI Bill is capped by the prevailing rates of local state universities. Perhaps some injured veterans or those with family responsibilities cannot attend school full-time, which the new GI Bill requires. Or perhaps some of these veterans are not receiving the best advice about the next chapter in their lives. So here's some good advice: Go to the best school possible, because doing so opens doors for the rest of your life.
Or maybe the elite schools are not being aggressive enough in seeking out and welcoming veterans. Are they full participants in the Yellow Ribbon Program? Do they have recruitment programs? Do they treat what veteran applicants might have done in high school years ago as if it were comparable to what non-veteran applicants did scant months ago? Do they ignore the significance of military experience in their admissions decisions? Do they have support groups for student veterans? A school official at one elite college was quoted in the blog entry to the effect that a school attended mainly by 18-21 year olds would not be "particularly attractive to veterans." Well, whose problem is that?
I'm old enough to remember similar statements being made with respect to women, and to ethnic minorities, and to first-generation college students. Things have since changed, at least a bit, and the obvious lesson is that concerted outreach by colleges and universities to under-represented groups is not a "favor" to those in such groups as much as something that benefits everyone.
How does my own school - the University of Michigan - fare in terms of current veteran enrollment? Better than many elite schools, but still not good enough. Michigan has been deemed a military-friendly university, and among its 35,000+ undergraduate students, about 100 are veterans plus another 100 or so graduate and professional students. These numbers are exceedingly small, though, compared to the 7700 student veterans on the Ann Arbor campus in 1950, more than one-third of the entire student body at the time. Yes, of course it was a different historical era with many more US veterans, but appreciate the larger point.
The post-WWII generation in the US is rightly called our greatest generation, and enrollment in the nation's elite colleges and universities helped them earn this designation. What are we doing now to set the stage for another great generation?
At least on many college campuses, not enough. Supporting the troops requires more than a lapel pin or a bumper sticker.
Wick Sloane, the author of the blog entry that inspired this one, calls on the nation's elite schools to enroll as many veterans in Fall 2011 as they do varsity football players.