As difficult as serving overseas in the military is, transitioning back into civilian life is a challenge for veterans that doesn’t get the same consideration. Enrolling in college to live out the promise of the GI Bill shouldn’t add to the burden. However, the recently founded Student Veterans Association of the University of Michigan has brought light to the many difficulties veteran’s face in the application process when applying to the University. These difficulties have existed for some time, yet the University is still unwilling to face them. Daunted by confusing bureaucracy in the Office of Admissions, veterans may opt to attend another university, finding ours to be an unwelcoming place. This sends exactly the wrong message for an institution that considers a diverse and open campus to be a key part of a maintaining a vibrant educational environment.
The University has more than 25,000 undergraduates, and a mere 48 of these are veterans – the second lowest percentage of veterans in the Big Ten, behind only Northwestern University. The Student Veterans Association, founded this year by Air Force veteran Derek Blumke, is determined to increase that number. The group recently met with Lester Monts, the University’s senior vice provost for academic affairs, about creating a special Office for Student Veterans’ Affairs to make the process of applying easier for veterans. Monts, however, glossed over the request, arguing that the University does not have enough veterans to warrant a special office for them.
Monts’s denial of the request is indicative of the University’s negligence. A major reason why the University has so few veterans could be because it does not exert enough effort to assist them in the application process, thus the University is continuing the vicious cycle by denying veterans the support they need. This makes our campus seem arrogant and unresponsive to the special inquiries some veterans have when applying to college.
Veterans, regardless of what type of students they may have been before serving in the military, face unique challenges in applying to the University. It is not that they are unqualified; rather, they face logistical barriers that most other applicants do not. Having been out of high school for so long, veterans may not have valid test scores, current transcripts or teachers recommendations. Without a specialized Office of Student Veterans’ Affairs, veterans are often left confused about what steps to take regarding application and payment as well as the specifics of the GI Bill. It would not be difficult for the University to designate just a few employees to take care of the specific concerns of veterans, and it would be completely worth it.
The government has already reached out to veterans with the 2007 additions to the GI Bill, which gives financial aid to veterans enrolled in college. Ohio State University and the University of Wisconsin at Madison both already have offices of veterans’ affairs; it’s no coincidence that those schools also have 598 and 224 student veterans respectively. The state of Wisconsin allows all of its vets to attend either a University of Wisconsin affiliate or Wisconsin Technical College for free. This may be more than the University of Michigan can do, but it must at least do all it can to ensure that such students are not discouraged from applying.
Building a larger population of veterans at the University is critical because of the diversity of experience it will bring to campus. While the University has programs that reach out to many different types of students in its ongoing mission to increase diversity, diversity entails more than just differences in race and religion. Veterans have lived a life and experienced things that most students never will, and they could contribute their vast experiences to improve classroom learning.
It is unfair and irresponsible for the University to continue to ignore a group that has explicitly asked for assistance. There is no reason that the University should deny veterans the extra help and support they deserve on campus.