The University’s mission to open higher education’s doors to “the whole people” is more relevant than ever as we welcome Spring 2014. The costs of not walking through those doors are high: By 2025, some 63 percent of U.S. jobs will require some postsecondary education or training. Education is now the Great Divide: Those who have it have the opportunity to prosper. Those who do not will occupy an increasingly marginalized sector of society.
Among those at risk of joining America’s most marginalized are our veterans. As of 2010, nationwide only 26 percent of veterans 25 or older had a bachelor’s degree (U.S. Census, 2011). Now, as many return home, there is no question that access to education and training is of great concern — to them and to our country.
Veterans need to redirect their civilian careers. As a nation, we are derelict if we fail to reward the sacrifice brave men and women have made on our behalf, by providing them with the means to compete in the knowledge economy.
It will be a great loss to the nation if we squander their talent. But most important, it is a great loss to universities, particularly to CUNY, if we fail to enroll returning veterans in large numbers, because of the special abilities, leadership and drive that they bring.
Our veterans, tested by war, have often held positions of leadership rare in individuals so young. They contribute unique perspectives to the University. Purple Heart recipient Richard Fisher was New York City College of Technology’s valedictorian in 2012; veteran Don Gomez, a 2010 graduate of City College, was designated a Colin Powell Center Scholar and received a 2009 Truman Fellowship; Tony Wan was York College’s 2012 valedictorian after two tours of duty in Iraq as a Marine.
From the days of the first GI Bill in 1944, CUNY has had an open door for veterans. We remain a natural choice for them because of the size and scope of our degree programs — 2,100 programs at 24 campuses — and our students’ great diversity.
The University has seen a surge in veterans’ enrollment due to the tuition-covering benefits of the Post-9/11 GI Bill combined with the drawdown of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2002 we had 1,200 veterans. Today, at least 3,000 veterans or military personnel — almost one-quarter women, nearly three-quarters black, Hispanic or Asian — are at CUNY. CUNY is recognized as one of the most military friendly public institutions by Military Times; John Jay College ranks second in New York State.
To continue our responsiveness to veterans, we convened a Veterans Task Force, spearheaded by our Council of College Presidents, to customize our approach to veterans’ education. The task force yielded 38 recommendations aimed at accelerating access to financial aid and benefits; expanding veterans’ counseling and advisement; facilitating credit transfer for previous instruction and field certifications, and engaging the public and private sectors to provide graduating veterans with internship and career opportunities.
CUNY has forged ahead in these areas. Our Trustees eliminated the year of nonresident tuition veterans had to pay when they enrolled at CUNY prior to establishing New York residency. CUNY waives veterans’ application fees. Our counseling and peer-mentoring program, The Project for Return and Opportunity for Veterans Education, or PROVE, helps veterans transition to civilian and college life. Returning student veterans have as a single point of contact an individual familiar with their financial, logistical and psychological issues. Each campus has a veterans support person.
The White House has authorized an Interagency Academic Credentialing Task Force to make it easier for higher education institutions to translate military training into educational credit. CUNY maintains an online repository of academic equivalencies of military credit and works to ensure that every military credit that can transfer, does.
Our students and faculty are fortunate to share in the benefits military personnel bring to their colleges. In the words of Tony Wan, York College’s 2012 valedictorian: “The achievements of finishing boot camp, surviving Iraq, graduating or even earning the title of valedictorian are not the real achievements … The real achievement, in the face of these challenges, is finding our authentic selves …”
Our veterans enrich our University and we are happy to welcome them home to CUNY.
CUNY, of course, continues to be in high demand. This year we received a record number of applications for Macaulay Honors College, more than 5,700. Freshman and transfer admissions are up so far, and CUNY students again are distinguishing themselves on the student award front.
We have 10 finalists for the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Scholarship, which awards $30,000 each year for two years. Two undergraduates have just been awarded Barry M. Goldwater Scholarships for science studies. They’ll each receive up to $7,500 a year for tuition and other expenses.
I expect 2014 to be another banner year for our student award-winners. I salute the University efforts to identify and support our potential award winners, and I salute our students who keep proving that CUNY’s access, affordability and academic quality are the keys to success.
William P. Kelly
Adapted from remarks made at the New York Governor’s Veterans and Military Families Summit and the winter 2014 Board of Trustees meeting.