Initiatives at Grand Valley State University and Davenport University seek to help veterans earn a college degree after their military service.
GVSU guarantees admission for high school students graduating in 2021 who enlist and then want to go to college after completing their military service.
The GVSU Veteran Promise applies to students at public and private high schools who sign enlistment papers and serve in the military for at least two years. They are guaranteed admission to attend GVSU after their service, or begin online instruction while on active duty.
GVSU has set a course “to be the best place in the Midwest for veterans to come to school” after their military service, GVSU President Philomena Mantella said during the university’s annual breakfast commemorating Veteran’s Day, which was held virtually this year.
The Veterans Promise will help veterans transition back to civilian life without the worry of whether they’ll get accepted to college, Mantella said.
“It is our obligation not only to these individuals who have served so courageously, but to our cities, our states and our nation to put this talent pipeline to use in what our country now needs, which is leadership,” she said. “We want to show that this kind of commitment makes imminent sense. Why should these young students feel that they are at some risk of losing a college education as they move off to serve our country?”
By bringing them back to study in Michigan, Mantella added, “We bring them back to our talent pipeline.”
More than 400 veterans are now enrolled at GVSU, which last year created the position of military and veteran resource manager. Jill Wolfe, a U.S. Army veteran and GVSU alumna, joined the university in July in that role.
GVSU this year plans to “step out in an even more bold way to claim our leadership role and to lead our country in supporting this wonderful community who will support us in turn,” Mantella said.
The university dedicated space at the Allendale campus’ Kirkhof Center for a new veterans center, she said. Construction should begin soon and the veterans center should open for the winter semester.
At Davenport, a partnership with the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency offers scholarships to employees at nearly 400 companies that are designated by the state as veteran-friendly. Those companies employ more than 30,000 veterans across Michigan.
Under the program, employees who served in the military can earn scholarships of up to $2,500 or up to $4,500, depending on their employer’s level of certification. Veterans at employers certified at the highest Gold level by the state’s Veterans Affairs Agency can access additional benefits.
The scholarships are renewable and veterans can apply them toward 22 credit hours per year for four years to attend Davenport, which has about 7,500 students enrolled online and at 10 campuses in Michigan, including Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo and Holland.
“This new partnership helps remove barriers so veterans can continue their education,” said Davenport President Richard Pappas. “By offering these scholarships in partnership with the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency, we’re able to help people currently in the workforce complete their bachelor’s or master’s degree, or pursue professional training to enhance their skills or gain industry-recognized certifications.”
In a pre-recorded address at GVSU’s Veterans Day event, the head of a national organization representing student veterans described how veterans were not always so welcome on college campuses.
The G.I. Bill in 1944 — known formally as the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act that was intended for World War II veterans that wanted to go to college — “almost never made it out of Congress,” said Jared Lyon, national president and CEO of Student Veterans of America and veteran of the U.S. Navy. Some college presidents openly questioned whether veterans could handle college, he said.
Some of those “unfounded falsehoods” persist still today, Lyon said.
“After World War II, college and university administrators thought that veterans did not belong on college campuses. They said that if we let veterans into our institutions of higher learning, we would degrade the quality of that education for those who deserved to be there,” Lyon said.
By 1948, a consensus grew that student veterans “were the hardest working, most serious and best students that college campuses at the time had ever seen,” he said.
“Student veterans quickly proved their value after World War II and they’re doing so again today at campuses with robust programs and support networks just like GVSU,” Lyon said. “Student veterans are in fact the most desired talent hiding in plain sight, excelling alongside their civilian peers.”
Student veterans collectively earn an undergraduate grade point average of 3.34, which Lyon said is among the highest in the nation. They also graduate at high percentage rates with business, STEM and health care as their top three fields, he said.
Lyon described military service before attending college as “the ultimate gap year or service year.” About 115,000 of the 200,000 people who leave military service each year go on to attend college within seven months, he added, mostly in their home state.