There are nearly three million post- 9/11 veterans in the U.S., many wishing to attend college and pursue bachelor’s degrees. Unfortunately, liberal arts colleges and universities often struggle to recruit these veterans, and retention and graduation rates are low.
In an effort to dramatically increase the number of veterans it enrolls, Wesleyan announced in September that it is entering into a new partnership with The Posse Foundation, Inc., an organization that helps colleges and universities to recruit exceptional public high school students who may be overlooked by traditional college selection processes. Through its newest initiative, the Veterans Posse Program, the foundation places talented veterans who are interested in pursuing bachelor’s degrees at top-tier colleges and universities. Wesleyan is only the second institution to partner with Posse in this initiative, and will welcome its first “posse” of 10 veterans to campus in fall 2014.
“I am tremendously excited about our partnership with the Posse Foundation to bring a cohort of veterans to campus each year,” said Wesleyan President Michael S. Roth. “We believe this group of undergraduates will add greatly to our diverse, dynamic campus, and that they will thrive in a community that values boldness, rigor and practical idealism.”
After making an effort for the past several years to recruit veterans, “we have learned that it is a real challenge to ‘go it alone’ as a single institution,” said Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Nancy Hargrave Meislahn. “We think that joining forces with Posse is the best way to increase enrollment of veterans. Our experience with the veterans who have enrolled—supported by our Military Veterans Endowed Scholarship Fund since fall 2008—has reinforced the vision that veterans will add significantly to diversity at Wesleyan. Veterans bring a different perspective and a set of life experience that enhance the learning community for all.”
According to John Gudvangen, director of financial aid, associate dean of admission and financial aid, Wesleyan is committing to meet the students’ full financial need through a combination of federal funds available for veterans, and Wesleyan funds, including scholarships set up by some generous donors.
Deborah Bial, president and founder of The Posse Foundation, stressed that the Veterans Posse Program seeks to recruit veterans “who we think have tremendous leadership potential to go out into the workforce and become major contributors” in whatever field they pursue.
The Posse Foundation accepts nominations of veterans from groups and individuals, and veterans also can inquire about the program on their own behalf. Of the hundreds of nominations it receives, the foundation will select about 25 candidates for consideration at Wesleyan. The candidate pool will be narrowed down through a series of group and individual interviews, and Wesleyan’s Admission staff ultimately will interview the finalists and offer admission to 10 veterans. This group forms a “posse,” which sticks together throughout four years at Wesleyan. Wesleyan plans to enroll a new posse of 10 veterans each year, eventually bringing the total number of veterans on campus at any time to 40.
Before beginning their college experience, the veterans participate in an immersive month-long training program. For their first two years at Wesleyan, the veterans posse will meet regularly as a group and one-on-one with a faculty mentor. The Posse Foundation will meet with the veterans on campus several times a year, and will host an annual off-campus retreat.
Bial said the veterans bring new and valuable perspectives to college campuses. While typical college freshmen are 18 years old and straight out of high school, the average veteran entering college is in his/ her late 20s or early 30s, and has spent time in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“These are men and women who really know that they want to go to college now. They’ve had a life experience that’s often been intense. They’ve had incredible training from the military. They really get how to support each other—that’s just in their DNA now—which is what Posse is all about,” she said.