There are nearly 3 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 is entering into a new partnership with The Posse Foundation, Inc. Since 1989, The Posse Foundation has helped 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 identifies talented veterans who are interested in pursuing bachelor’s degrees, and places them at top tier colleges and universities, where they receive four-year scholarships. Wesleyan is only the second institution to partner with Posse in this brand new 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 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.”
Wesleyan first approached Posse last winter about partnering on the veterans initiative. Wesleyan has made an effort for the past several years to recruit veterans, and “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 are interested in enrolling more veterans than the one or two we have been enrolling annually, and think that joining forces with Posse is the best way to do this. 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.
“We want them to be CEOs; we want them to run for office and to run school districts,” she said.
The Posse Foundation accepts nominations of veterans from veterans groups, local governments, community and religious organizations, and individuals across the country. 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. All applicants must fill out the regular Wesleyan application and go through a three-month-long interview process conducted by Posse, which involves both group and individual interviews. Once the candidate pool is narrowed down further, Wesleyan’s Admissions staff will interview the finalists and ultimately 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 the Posse Foundation’s one-month residential immersion program in New York City, which includes leadership, academic, team-building and cross-cultural training. Once on campus, the veterans posse will meet weekly as a group for the first two years. A faculty mentor will attend these meetings, and also will meet individually with the students. Staff from The Posse Foundation will visit campus three or four times a year to meet with the veterans. They also will run an annual Posse Plus retreat, which brings together the veterans and other Wesleyan students, faculty and administrators for a long weekend off campus to immerse themselves in workshops on a chosen hot topic.
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.
“Wesleyan is going to have 40 U.S. veterans on its campus within the next five years,” Bial added. “That’s going to make a significant impact. They’re going to be in the classrooms, sharing their experiences. They’re going to be in the dorms; they’re going to be in the cafeteria. They’ll bring a very valuable perspective that will contribute to the educational environment at Wesleyan.”
Ultimately, The Posse Foundation aims to expand the veterans initiative to 10 institutions, said Bial.
There are links on the Veterans Posse Program website for veterans to indicate interest in the Posse Scholarship, or for others to nominate a veteran.