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 3.

As of this year, Vassar has successfully matriculated two veteran cohorts, bringing the number of veterans at Vassar to 21, out of 2,450 undergraduates. The hope is to continue to admit one group of veterans every year, which would mean, in two years, veterans would constitute nearly 1.5 percent of the student body, should overall enrollment remain the same.

Hmmm. “Successfully matriculated” is not the same thing as “successfully educated” or “successfully integrated into the class” or even “successfully retained.” How many of the 10 (?) veterans that came to Vassar as a part of the class of 2017 are still at Vassar? How many are glad that they came? Is there a single veteran who is unhappy with the program? Hard questions are not going to be asked or answered in this article because it is a puff piece. If I were the editor involved, I would be, at least slightly, embarrassed.

“One of the things we have been trying to do over the last decade or so is create a diverse student body,” Ms. Hill said. “This effort is part of creating that diversity.”

How about creating a “smart” or “talented” or “hard-working” student body first? Now, this is somewhat unfair to Hill. Vassar is a fine school, ranked 11th by US News, with many smart, hard-working students. But hundreds and hundreds of smarter, harder-working high school seniors turn down Vassar each year to attend better colleges. That is what Cappy Hill ought to work on.

This year, Wesleyan University followed Vassar’s lead and admitted 10 veterans to its freshman class under the Posse program.

Hmm. The fact that Wesleyan is participating in this program makes me even more suspicious. First, it is reasonable to argue that a veteran ought to choose Dartmouth over State U because of the better education and/or networks that Dartmouth provides. But that argument does not apply nearly as strongly, if at all, to Wesleyan. (Contrary arguments welcome.) Second, Wesleyan faces non-trivial budget problems. Does it find this program interesting, not because it likes veterans (this is Wesleyan, after all), but because the GI Bill makes such students “cheap” because they do not need financial aid?

“The goal,” Ms. Hill said, “is to get 10 to 12 schools in the program. With the current three cohorts in place, we will be able to converse with other schools about how they might make this program work for them.”

I am all for experimentation, but only if the results of the experiment are honestly reported. Again, Dartmouth has been matriculating veterans for at least five years. What happened to them? If Hill hasn’t tried to find out, then she is not doing her job. If she has found out and isn’t telling us, then . . .

But matriculating veterans is a complex operation. Most four-year colleges cater to students between the ages of 18 and 22. Student veterans, on the other hand, tend to be older, are sometimes married or have children, and can present challenges different to those of a typical undergraduate student.

Dan MacDonald, 50, a freshman at Dartmouth, is married and has a 10-year-old daughter. Though he was able to secure off-campus housing with help from faculty members, he will attend the first term alone, leaving his family behind on Long Island.

50?!? We are very far away from my hypothetical 20 year-old USMC lance corporal. Dartmouth can do as it wants, but I don’t think Williams should have any 50 year-old students. Williams has a hard enough job to be the best college in the world for 18 to 22 year-old young adults. Trying to incorporate someone as old as MacDonald is too hard a problem.

And this example — the best one that they could come up with for the article?!? — highlights the shallowness of Cappy Hill’s previous discussion of diversity. One can make a reasonable case for “diversity” — i.e., for affirmative action for Hispanic/black applicants — because a variety of backgrounds, when interwoven within a students four year experience at Vassar — makes for a better undergraduate experience. Fine. But that argument requires integration both in the classroom and, more importantly, in the dorm and dining hall. Most (90%?) of the benefits of diversity come outside of the classroom, in discussions and debates and conversations. But Dan MacDonald will, through no fault of his own, participate in very little of that. He won’t live in the dorms or eat (much) in the dining hall. He will come to campus to take his classes and then head back to his family, as every father with a 10 year-old daughter should.

Vassar could have a 100 veterans on campus, but if they aren’t completely integrated into undergraduate life, then they will add a trivial amount of “diversity” to the education on their non-veteran classmates.

Print  •  Email