Columbia Continues to Lead Ivy League in Supporting Vets Transitioning to Higher Education and Workforce
The Columbia University School of General Studies traces its commitment to veterans back to 1947, when it was founded, in large part, to provide veterans returning from World War II the opportunity to pursue undergraduate higher education. Today, with nearly 500 veterans enrolled at GS, Columbia University boasts the highest undergraduate veteran student enrollment in the Ivy League—in fact, enrolling more than all other Ivy League schools combined—while maintaining a graduation rate above 90 percent and a record of job and graduate school placement equaling Columbia’s non-veteran graduates.
Not only do veteran students excel among their peers in a rigorous academic environment, they bring vital diversity to the undergraduate classroom with their unique life experiences.
The School’s longstanding history of working with the nontraditional student population has helped us to anticipate their needs once they arrive on campus. We continue to look at ways to improve access to education and provide unique resources aimed at helping student veterans who enroll here.
The triumphs of veteran students at Columbia do not come without unique challenges, however. Service members transitioning out of active duty and into civilian life may face difficulties in accessing higher education, acclimating to a university setting, and beginning meaningful careers outside of the military while balancing their home and family lives.
“Many of the challenges service members and veterans face are similar to other nontraditional students. The School’s longstanding history of working with the nontraditional student population has helped us to anticipate their needs once they arrive on campus,” said Beth Morgan, Director of Higher Education Transition for the Columbia University Center for Veteran Transition and Integration. “We continue to look at ways to improve access to education and provide unique resources aimed at helping student veterans who enroll here.”
Veterans who choose to pursue higher education may find it difficult to convey the invaluable experience and expertise gained during their service in their admissions applications. The School’s commitment to aiding veteran students in the admissions process is exemplified by the School's partnership with the U.S. Marine Corps and the Leadership Scholar Program (LSP).
The School of General Studies was one of the founding partners of the LSP, and the first college in the Ivy League to become involved in the Program. Exiting Marines who are interested in pursuing higher education are identified by their commanding officers and receive comprehensive support as they navigate the path to enrolling at leading colleges and universities, including assistance in the application process and a single point of contact to answer any questions—providing Marines the support they need to communicate their qualifications effectively.
Since the partnership was formed in 2010, GS has admitted hundreds of Marines who have participated in LSP, and remains among the top 190 colleges and universities supporting the program.
We recognize that it is important not just for veterans to come to us in search of educational opportunities, but that we are actively promoting what Columbia can offer.
The idea that prospective students could be recruited on Marine bases, and the subsequent partnership with LSP, was born out of a trip to a Marine base in Miramar by Curtis Rodgers, Vice Dean of the School of General Studies. Major General Michael R. Lehnert, former Commanding General of Marine Corps Installations West, shared his vision of seeing more talented Marines complete their undergraduate degrees at top colleges and universities in the United States.
"I’m thrilled that his vision has been realized,” Rodgers said.
The School’s admissions team has met with prospective veteran students at military installations that include Camp Pendleton, Camp Lejeune, the Pentagon, the Walter Reed Medical Center, Quantico, Fort Hood, and many more. In the fall of 2017, GS hosted the first veteran-focused info session near an installation in Okinawa, Japan.
“The success of the partnership with LSP demonstrated that with pointed effort, a university can successfully build relationships with prospective students on active duty. LSP has truly served as a launching point for increased military recruitment efforts and the School continues to look for ways to expand its reach in the U.S. and abroad,” said Morgan.
Back on the Columbia campus, the School’s admissions team is working to build relationships with veteran centers at community colleges, and seeks engagement opportunities with not only veteran students, but also the administrators who work with them. Additionally, many veteran alumni who had great experiences during the admissions process, as well as their studies at Columbia, are engaged in connecting their networks of fellow service members to the School.
“We recognize that it is important not just for veterans to come to us in search of educational opportunities, but that we are actively promoting what Columbia can offer,” said Matthew Rotstein, Director of Admissions at the School of General Studies.
The experiences Rodgers has had working with military service members and veterans over more than 20 years led to his founding, along with the late Dean Emeritus Peter J. Awn, the Columbia University Center for Veteran Transition and Integration—a resource for all military personnel at any step in their journey.
Columbia’s success in helping military personnel transition successfully has prompted interest from other universities, employers, government agencies, and veteran-support organizations across the nation.
“The Center is focused on driving collaboration and innovation in the veteran transition space. Since our founding in 2017, we have engaged with multiple organizations to enhance and expand their programming to thousands of veterans nationally, as well as to develop free online transition courses that have reached nearly 3,000 military-connected individuals and supporters,” said Lieutenant Colonel Abrams, Executive Director of the Center, as well as a veteran of the war in Afghanistan and a current Marine Corps Reservist.
These courses draw from Columbia’s expertise in curriculum development, instructional technology, and support services to aid veterans in transitioning to—and succeeding in—higher education or the beginning of a new career.
Recognizing that veterans who do choose to return to school after several years may experience difficulties transitioning into a university setting, the School of General Studies has also forged a partnership with the Warrior-Scholar Project (WSP).
WSP offers immersive academic boot camps at America’s top colleges and universities, run by WSP staff and a team of WSP alumni veteran student fellows, and taught by university professors. An intensive syllabus guides participants as they adjust to an academic environment. WSP believes that with the right educational support during transition from active duty to civilian academic life, veterans will become the next generation of civic and business leaders.
The Warrior-Scholar Project allows us to show veterans and transitioning service members how welcome they are here at Columbia, and what a college education can mean for them.
This past summer, Columbia hosted a week-long WSP bootcamp for the second year in a row. A dozen transitioning veteran students participated, residing in campus housing and attending lectures led by Columbia professors on the University’s Morningside Campus.
“The Warrior-Scholar Project allows us to show veterans and transitioning service members how welcome they are here at Columbia, and what a college education can mean for them. WSP students tell us they derive great value from their week at Columbia, and a number of them have ended up enrolling at GS and joining our robust community of student veterans—and we are very glad to have them,” said Victoria Rosner, Dean of Academic Affairs at the School of General Studies.
With the development of partnerships and resources such as the Center for Veteran Transition and Integration, the Leadership Scholar Program, and the Warrior-Scholar Project, the School of General Studies and Columbia University continue improving the experiences of veterans transitioning out of service and into the next phase of their personal and professional lives.