America’s colleges have failed to recruit veterans. Only 10 percent of veterans who use their GI Bill benefits attend institutions with high graduation rates, and less than 1 percent of them attend elite universities. When a service member lacks equivalent training or college education for other employment opportunities, fear of leaving the service can become a daily reality for many in the military. In the meantime, service members linger around in military jobs or they get hurt and are discarded into a monstrosity of a veteran affairs support system. “Thank you for your service” rings hollow in the civilian world. A single, spoken sentence should not be the extent of support that we offer our service members.
Vice Provost for Enrollment Management and Interim Vice President of Campus Life Paul Marthers spoke for the University when he told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that there is a “strong interest” in recruiting veterans by expanding “a number of local and national programs.” But Emory must move beyond vague rhetoric. Marthers’ statement did little beyond laying down the insufficient status quo, and he only ambiguously mentioned the programs that are available to veterans. Instead of just talking about reform and posting information online, the University should reach out to veterans directly.
To improve Emory’s veteran recruitment efforts (or lack thereof), it is important to understand why veterans rarely apply to elite universities in the first place. In many cases, military enlistment remains an attractive option for B-average students who have extenuating circumstances that make college unaffordable or otherwise unfeasible. This profile doesn’t exactly match the high GPAs and excellent SAT scores of the typical student admitted to an elite university.
That said, there are benefits to bringing veterans into the classroom. They bring differing life experiences, having worked full-time in unique and austere conditions across a myriad of fields that other students may be interested in. To follow through on its aim to attract more student veterans, Emory should more actively recruit former service members. Passive recruiting programs are designed to be explored by service members on their own, often while they are in the midst of full-time active duty service. Because of this, these programs become nothing but an aimless distraction.
These are some of the many intrinsic obstacles that prevent service members from achieving their full educational potential. Although programs exist to encourage service members to obtain a college education, these are gated behind considerable restrictions. Military Tuition Assistance (TA), for example, has a $4,500 cap on tuition and some branches have a limit on the hours and courses you can enroll in per year. In fact, TA utilization has experienced a continuous decline in the last few years where “much of the decline is due to [these] restrictions.”
Additionally, service members can experience friction in their chain of command if they choose to pursue educational opportunities. It isn’t hard to understand why a noncommissioned officer (NCO) would question why his or her subordinate learning calculus takes more precedence than their military training. There’s a saying in the military that one is a service member 24/7. If any of those hours aren’t dedicated to the mission, then he or she might as well be an outcast. Active recruiting can dispel this thought by endorsing current student veterans as concrete examples of life outside the service.
Emory could take a more assertive step by forming a school-funded or volunteer outreach group to travel and recruit service members during breaks or through the summer, led by a student veteran and a person from the admissions office. Once service members are informed, Emory should embed itself in the military’s transition assistance programs by providing college application counseling and standardized testing preparation. Resume-writing and vocational careers should not be the only focus of these programs.
Another step the University could take is creating a summer program that would allow veterans to enroll and take part in tailored, introductory college courses to prepare them for the University’s rigor. Letting service members experience freedom of choice, something that they rarely experience in the service, is something that Emory should use to attract student veterans. For example, at Emory you can explore courses without declaring a major from the very beginning. This is a breath of fresh air for those who have always had to lock in a contract for a job, or even have their job picked for them according to the needs of the military, without knowing what’s in store for them.
Being seen as a welcoming and veteran-friendly university is an important distinction that provides ease for exiting service members in what would otherwise be an uncomfortable transition into the unknown. Emory must sow these seeds of information as it takes a lot of planning, time, paperwork and willpower to leave the military, a career that can be a safety net for those who question their ability to attend and afford a school like Emory.
America’s veterans deserve better than the hand they’re currently dealt. The University cannot let itself be satisfied with passive recruitment measures like Marthers’ statement and University webpages. Existing programs require already-informed service members to explore resources on their own, but Emory has the opportunity to distinguish itself among other elite universities by pushing the envelope and directly recruiting more student veterans.
John Angeles (22C) is from Grovetown, Ga.