As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down, more troops are trading in tanks for textbooks, including at Cornell.
Tapping into a nationwide surge in GI education, the University’s undergraduate and graduate programs are among the top recruiters of recent veterans in the Ivy League.
“[Veterans] bring a level of maturity, seriousness and sense of purpose that can only come from serving in conflict zones,” said Jason Locke, director of undergraduate admissions.
Cornell currently has 48 enrolled undergraduate veterans and veteran dependants and 56 graduate and continuing education military students.
In the Ivy League, only Columbia teaches more armed service personnel, according to Inside Higher Education. Columbia’s School of General studies — originally founded in 1947 to accommodate World War II GI’s — now counts 210 veterans, up from 50 three years ago.
Gauging the total number of veterans at Cornell, however, proves difficult. Many veterans use previous coursework to apply as transfer students. Others defer federal financial support to their children. And tracking trends is challenging because Cornell does not officially log veterans’ emails, phone calls and inquiries.
While the University has not launched a publicized outreach effort, Locke began contacting veterans interested in undergraduate degrees three years ago. The poor treatment his father faced reentering the workforce as a Vietnam veteran sparked his mission, he said.
“Because of his experience, I am committed to making certain this generation of veterans is treated with the respect they deserve given their sacrifice,” Locke said.
Responding to troops’ emails, phone calls and interview requests, he has seen a “significant spike” in interest from soldiers with six to 12 months of active duty left. Locke said the 2009 Post-9/11 GI Bill — which supports tuition and housing for those completing at least 90 days of service since Sept. 11, 2001 — has incited the boom.
“With more [soldiers] going back to school, Cornell brings in a large veteran population because it does a great job recruiting us,” said David Andros MBA ’12, president of the Johnson School Veterans Club. In Iraq, Andros completed two tours in an Army task force platoon.
Locke said that Cornell’s success hinges on its various recruiting and financial incentives, particularly the Yellow Ribbon program and the U.S. Marine Corps Leader Scholar Program. The entire Cornell campus also participates in the Yellow Ribbon program. Supplementing the GI Bill, the Yellow Ribbon allows universities and the Department of Veteran Affairs to evenly split tuition costs that exceed the Bill’s $17,500 cap.
The University currently hosts 38 Yellow Ribbon recipients, 18 of whom are undergraduates, according to Locke. Although Columbia was the first Ivy League school to join the program, only Cornell doesn't put an automatic limit on the amount it gives to each student in the yellow ribbon program. Instead, each school works individually with applicants to determine need, according to the Department of Veteran Affairs’ website.
The University also participates in the U/S/ Marine Crops Leadership Scholar Program to recruit honorably discharged Marines interested in higher education.
The Johnson School of Management has taken an active stance toward recruiting veterans for the program. In a class of 300 candidates, around 15 boast military experience.
William Huling ’68 MBA ’74, associate dean for alumni affairs and development at the Johnson, has chosen to personally interview every veteran applicant, translate their achievements for the admissions department and make recommendations for acceptance.
Spending his entire professional career in the Army or at Cornell, Huling has been “either red or green for the last 40 years.” A Vietnam veteran and retired Army colonel, he said what veterans lack in business experience they make up in leadership.
The average veteran MBA candidate at the Johnson has already served 5 to 8 years and two combat tours, he said. This means they arrive on time, get things done and have learned to withhold complaining.
“They’re battle tested, mature and very unshakable,” Huling said. “To study here is hard, but it’s not like someone shooting at you while being responsible for people’s lives and millions of dollars of equipment.”
The Johnson School has created a profile on GIJobs.com, prepares military pamphlets for MBA fairs, unlike most programs, and includes a special section on its Diversity and Inclusion webpage for veterans.
In the Ivy League, only Columbia and Cornell made the 2012 list of friendly colleges and universities at MilitaryFriendlySchools.com. The Johnson School ranked among Carnegie Mellon's Tepper School, University of Michigan’s Ross School and the Duke University Fuqua School as top military business programs, according Military M.B.A.
“The fact that we broadcast what academic and financial resources are available is going to make Cornell really attractive in upcoming years,” Andros said.
Andros said his next mission is to bring in more people like himself. The Veterans Club website posts reasons why prospective veteran students should come to Cornell and offers tips and contacts for applicants.
For most, the Johnson’s small, collaborative curriculum has become a major selling point to performance-oriented troops, according to Huling. This year, first round applications from active duty personnel have doubled from an average of five to 12. The application deadline is not until March 14, and the Class of 2012 welcomed a record-number of 19 veterans.
“We have to compete aggressively because they’re [veterans] looking at peer programs and not just at us,” Huling said.
Lossom Allen J.D. ’12 said he believes the law school will soon see a similar rise in interest. After serving on three Marine tours in Iraq and Africa, Allen became president of the Law School Veterans Society.
Several military students formed the group in 2008 in response to an email from Law School administrators that “warned” students about Judge Advocate General recruiters on campus. The group took a role in standing up for the role of military-based recruiters at the law school.
“The tone made it seem like the JAG recruiters were a trap,” he said. “It was offensive and brought before the Dean of students, who agreed to stop the emails.”
The Veterans Society currently brings in legal scholars with experience in international military law and promotes careers in global policy, according to Allen. Although the Law School only enrolls an average of five students in a class of around 200, Allen believes Cornell’s small program will become an attractive civilian transition for veterans as the job market dries up.
“The Law School doesn’t do much veteran recruiting,” he said. “But it’s welcoming, fair and overall doing a good job.”
The transition from the battleground to the blackboard, however, can be rough, according to former servicemen. Andros said readjusting to a civilian lifestyle took patience and time.
“Academics aren’t too stressful, but you have to learn to slow down,” he said.
The Veterans Colleague Networking Group aids in recruiting veterans to campus and integrating them with other faculty, staff and students.
“Our Veteran Colleague Networking Group has a mission and vision to be the premier Ivy League University in the United States that brings in the highest quality veterans,” said Captian Daniel Weed, vice chair of the group and commanding officer of the Navy ROTC program.
Many veterans on campus, however, said they believe Cornell can do a better job reaping the benefits young soldiers can provide. Lt. Col. Jerome Rizzo of NRTOC said veterans offer skills other students do not bring to the table.
“There’s nothing like hands-on experience and taking on a lot of responsibility at a young age,” he said. “Schools are figuring out these are sharp people who round out and add diversity to the student body.”
Andros, for one, was recently named a Fried Fellowship, a prestigious award given to six students for academic achievement and leadership. He said the Johnson School could use other non-profit career transition organizations like Hire America’s Heroes to attract active duty soldiers.
Financial difficulties remain the other chief obstacle in transforming the veteran population from a growing minority into a significant bloc on campus.
“People often assume because of the GI Bill and other programs exist that costs are covered,” Huling said. “They’re not; we really need more scholarships to show our support for their service.”
The Peter and Stephanie Nolan Veterans Scholarship and Yellow Ribbon program at Cornell remain underfunded, according to the Johnson School Veterans Club. Nonetheless, three of four military business students receive some form of scholarship, according to the admissions department.
“They can add tremendous value to the University through intellectual curiosity and research, leadership, and technical skills,” Weed said. “Our veteran population is a special interest group that should be recognized.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article contained several errors. It incorrectly stated that Bill Huling is "a former Vietnam Army colonel." In fact, he is a Vietnam veteran who served in the U.S. Army. He is also not the vice chair of the Veterans Colleague Network Group. Additionally, the article incorrectly reported that Cornell leads the Ivy League in the recruitment of recent veterans. In fact, as the story correctly points out, Columbia University recruits more veterans.