When Vassar College students returned last week for the new semester, among the second term freshmen returning to the cloistered campus in the Town of Poughkeepsie, was a group of U.S. veterans in their twenties and thirties who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and are now members of the Vassar Class of 2017.
These eleven freshmen have been part of the Veterans Posse Program, a pioneering initiative launched by Vassar President Catharine Hill, who has long been committed to increasing access to higher education, in partnership with the Posse Foundation, a national organization which for more than two decades has identified public high students who may have been overlooked by traditional admissions processes and successfully sent them in teams — or posses — to the country’s most selective colleges and universities.
Looking for effective ways to support the growing number of returning veterans and help them succeed after deployment, Vassar is the first college in the country to offer the Posse program for veterans. They have committed to not only funding the full four year tuition for these students, beyond the GI Bill and Yellow Ribbon benefits, but also to an ongoing program to bring a new cohort of veterans in subsequent freshman classes. “The most important thing we can do is to have a veteran friendly campus,” said Ben Lotto, former Dean of Freshmen and mentor to this Veterans Posse.
Challenges have included housing for students with families and the age disparity, but, says Lotto, most of the issues are not dissimilar to many faced by other new students or student groups. “We serve them best if we think of them as just college students,” he explained. The other students and members of the faculty have recognized pretty quickly the richness of experience and diverse perspective this group of students brings to their campus.
For their part, Posse is expanding the vets program to add Wesleyan College next fall. Many four year colleges and universities have tried for years with limited success to recruit returning vets, who tend to be over represented at for-profit and two year community colleges. “For some students these may be exactly the right fit,” explained Vassar President Catherine Hill. “But for others, the selective, private, non-profit liberal arts college may be a significantly better option.” Vassar’s second posse — ten veterans from the Army, Army National Guard, Navy, and Marine Corps — was recognized in a ceremony earlier this month and will matriculate this fall. For more information, visit www.possefoundation.org.
There are many other initiatives in our region to support returning veterans and their families. Another new program worth noting is a year-long farmer training program called Heroic Food FarmSchool which is designed to prepare post 9/11 military veterans for careers in ecologically focussed farming and food preparation. For more information about this program, contact Leora@heroicfood.org.
To help access this and other information for Veterans in Dutchess and Columbia Counties we have launched a special Veterans Information link on my New York State Assembly website http://assembly.state.ny.us/mem/Didi-Barrett.
(Published 1.27.14 in the Poughkeepsie Journal)