This The New York Times article on special admissions programs for military veterans at elite colleges provides a good excuse for a four day review of the topic, one we have covered before at EphBlog. This is Day 1.

As bow-tied waiters cleared plates and emptied coffee cups inside a plush meeting room at the Yale Club in Midtown Manhattan earlier this month, about 30 veterans from nearby community colleges listened to representatives from Yale, Dartmouth, Wesleyan and Vassar describe their veterans programs and answer questions about academics, financial aid and housing.

Rob Cuthbert, an enlisted Army veteran and member of the fiduciary board of the Yale Veterans Association who helped to organize the event, said the session was an attempt to address a phenomenon he referred to as an “exigent crisis”: the small numbers of veterans attending elite four-year colleges and universities.

Note the framing: “bow-tied waiters” in a “plush” meeting room. These facts have nothing to do with the substance of the story, but they do set up a narrative of elite gatekeepers and poor-but-striving veterans.

It is really a “crisis,” exigent or otherwise, that so few veterans attend elite schools? No. The vast, vast majority of US veterans have neither the ability nor the desire to attend places like Williams.

Imagine an article that claimed that it was a “crisis” that so few veterans play professional sports. (Off the top of my head, I can’t think of a single veteran in the NFL/NBA/NHL/MLB. Corrections welcome.) Men with the background/ability to (potentially) play professional sports have little interest, today, in serving in the military. And that is OK! It is a free country.

But unless you ascribe to an extreme blank slatism which claims that every kind of person should be represented at places like Williams, there no more reason to worry about the lack of veterans at Williams than to worry about the lack of veterans in the NFL NBA.

[Update: Thanks to a comment below for pointing out that there are veterans in the NFL. I do not think that there are any in the NBA. Corrections welcome.]

Keep in mind that there are three separate issues:

First, should Williams discriminate on the basis of age? My answer: Yes! If you want to be the best college in the world, then you need to focus on finding/recruiting the most academically-talented, English-fluent, 18 year-olds. Might you accept a few 19/20 year-olds who wanted to take a gap year or who had to serve one year of military service in Singapore? A few 17 year-olds who skipped a grade in high school? Sure! But the primary focus in on 18 year-olds.

Second, what about the (many?) US 20 year-olds who, after a three year stint in the Marine Corps, want to go to Williams? Fine! Send in an application. Williams should (I am happy to grant) treat them the same as it would any other applicant. If they have 1500 Math/Verbal SATs with top grades in challenging high school courses then, by all means, admit them. The problem (?) is that there are very, very few (any?) such applicants.

Third, what about affirmative action for military veterans? It is true that there are very few applicants with reasonable academic credentials — say, Academic Ratings 3 and 4 on the Williams scale — but we might give such applicants a boost, just as we do with black/Hispanics/athletes. I don’t like this idea because I think that the affirmative action that the College practices with those other groups is bad for Williams and bad for the students it purports to help, i.e., the mismatch hypothesis.

But even if you put all this together — excepting applicants at 20 (so they are freshman at 21 or even 22), lowering admissions standards to go down to Academic Rating 3 or 4 — the number of potential Ephs is too small to justify the trouble.

In the real world, Williams-caliber high school students don’t enlist in the military and then seek a Williams education afterwards. They either go to Williams first and then serve or they go to a military academy or ROTC right out of high school.

More details to come over the next three days.

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