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Veterans’ talent, service orientation and diversity, along with other qualities, make them ideal college students.

Adobestock

Last year, the University of Virginia released a 10-year strategic plan. The first objective is to “[r]recruit and support exceptionally talented, diverse and service-oriented students… who have the potential to live a life of purpose, impact and service. The goal stresses the need to support “first generation and under-represented students, recognizing that the creation of economic and social opportunities is one of the highest vocations of a public university”.

Ryan Pavel is the CEO of Warrior-Scholar Project

The AVU, along with institutions with similar aspirations, should aggressively recruit and admit enlisted veterans, who tick every box of this goal. While commissioned officers can certainly make an impact in the classroom, the focus here is on the enlisted population, most of whom do not have an undergraduate degree when they separate from the military.

Veterans make up less than half a percent of AVU’s undergraduate student body. This is generally the rule in highly selective establishments, not the exception, although some are heading in the right direction. The silver lining is that, for institutions with few enlisted veterans on campus, the marginal impact for each subsequent admission is enormous. Each veteran contributing to classroom discussions, succeeding in degree programs, joining and positively influencing student groups, and graduating has a disproportionate impact.

Selective institutions should not admit veterans just for the sake of admitting veterans; instead, they should admit members of this underserved and largely untapped talent pool, as veterans add tangible value to the college community. Their admission significantly advances institutional goals of diversity, equity and inclusion.

To understand why and how, let’s break down the UVA goal:

First, the orientation towards talent and service. You don’t have to trust patriotism to make the connection. Veterans have demonstrable service experience by the time they leave the military. They have worked in teams to accomplish critical missions and served causes greater than themselves. Even the difficult aspects of service can have an advantage, as they can foster team building, leadership, emotional intelligence, maturity, and perspective – qualities that should be welcome in any classroom. .

Veterans leave the service with a range of soft skills, technical skills and life experience that prepare them for significant purpose and impact after service. Many ex-combatants remain engaged as civic leaders. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, veterans are five times more likely than non-veterans to serve in the federal government.

Then, diversity. Enlisted military personnel and veterans are a remarkably diverse group. Over 60% are first generation students. About 19% are Black or African American, 4.5% are Asian, 3.2% are multiracial, and 1.2% are Native American or Alaska Native. Women make up 16.6% of the active force, but 32% of the veteran student body, because women are more likely than men to pursue further education after separation from the military. With an active-duty force of over one million military personnel, those percentages rise to hundreds of thousands of potential candidates.

Many soldiers in transition are already attending college. Each year, approximately 115,000 veterans begin graduate studies, far too many at institutions producing degrees that will not significantly advance career outcomes.

Tens of thousands of people enroll in community college, which can be an exceptional step to post-service success. But, as a recent Chronicle of Higher Education review noted, veterans are among community college students “who are often not as well served by four-year institutions.” This declaration should be a call to action – why are veterans not as well served by four-year institutions, and what can be done to change that?

Many veterans are excellent students. The most comprehensive analysis of the performance of veteran undergraduate students identified their overall persistence rate at 72%. This rate is much higher for Veterans who take advantage of support networks and use approved college preparation programs.

Finally, the economic and social opportunity. Thanks to the skills acquired and abilities honed during service, augmented by the work of public and private workforce development organizations, unemployment of veterans is currently 20% lower than that of non-veterans. Veterans have a penchant for entrepreneurship: The Small Business Administration reports that veterans are 45% more likely to start their own businesses, and 10% of small businesses are owned by veterans.

This is not an argument for specialized treatment for veterans. UVA’s strategic plan doesn’t mention veterans, and that’s fine. Many institutions, including AVU, already offer key educational supports that help veterans succeed, including enhancing the benefits of the GI Bill through the Yellow Ribbon program, establishing and renewing veterans centers, and providing personalized advice to veterans.

But until selective institutions see enlisted veterans as a key ingredient in their strategic growth goals based on the principles of equity and inclusion, and as a population deserving to be actively recruited and admitted, these supports will continue to be underutilized.

An institution’s investment in recruiting and supporting enlisted veterans will pay off, if only the investment is made.

Ryan Pavel is the CEO of the Warrior-Scholar Project, an enlisted Navy veteran and an alumnus of AVU Law.

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