With more Posse partners, fewer veterans choose Vassar

A group of currently enrolled Vassar Posse students pose. Tiffany Trumble/The Miscellany News.

“It was terrifying,” said Posse veteran Francisco Andrade ’22 [Disclaimer: Andrade is the Humor Editor for the Miscellany News] of leaving the military after six years.

After considering several post-military plans, Andrade received a full scholarship to Vassar via Posse, a highly selective program that pays for any college tuition that the GI bill does not cover. This allows the chosen veterans to attend the four Posse veteran partner colleges and universities on a full ride.

The selection process is rigorous. Lasting nearly one year, the application process entails several rounds of interviews and evaluations in group settings. According to Director of the Posse Veterans Program Marcus Felder, Posse searches for veteran scholars with superior leadership skills and high academic potential. Dean of Admissions Sonya Smith explained that Vassar selects students to admit from a Posse-selected pool of veterans.

In recent years Vassar has struggled to bring in a full Posse class. For the group of veterans arriving next fall, Posse brought less than the anticipated 20 applicants for Vassar to choose from, resulting in an entering class of six Posse students instead of the expected 10. Registrar Colleen Mallet says a dearth of admitted students has happened once or twice before in previous years.

According to Mallet, the reduction of Posse applications to Vassar has to do with the addition of new partner universities— the University of Chicago and University of Virginia joined Vassar and Wesleyan University as partners in the Posse Veterans Program—while the overall supply of Posse applicants has not increased to meet the demand.

“Perhaps these schools are more appealing geographically, or maybe because they’re larger schools,” Mallet considered. “I think [resolving this issue] is a matter of Posse having to find a greater pool for all schools to choose from.”

Convincing veterans of the value of a liberal arts education has also proven challenging. Many Posse veterans in their older 20s and early/mid-30s have responsibilities outside of educational life, such as families and children to attend to, and therefore seek more direct post-graduation career paths.

“During their time in the military, they’ve been trained for specific jobs, so there’s always that goal of ‘Here’s the job you’re trained for.’ I think it’s a little bit harder to see with a liberal arts education. They’re at the end of these four years [asking], ‘What am I qualified to do?’” explained Mallet.

Andrade echoed this point, but also described how a liberal arts education ended up complementing his military experience and allowed him to explore new interests. “The military has a very one-track mind for the most part. You have a mission, and though the plan may change and you may have to find new ways to complete it, the objective remains the same,” He explained. “But reality is not like that, and a liberal arts education allows students to try classes and experience things they may never have tried outside of it.”

Mallet admitted that part of the issue is overcoming the challenge of communicating the value of a liberal arts degree, as many of the majors at Vassar do not have a clear pre-professional track. “Especially with this [veteran] population that enters college a little older, in their late 20s, 30s, they’re ready to hit the ground running. At that point in their life do they want to start an entry-level job? … They want to catch up with their peers, so it makes it harder to see exactly how this liberal arts education can help them get to that end goal of that job.”

Felder shared that Posse is working on expanding its recruitment efforts in order to reach more applicants each year. This includes establishing an advisory council to increase outreach and recruitment strategy and working with admissions offices.

Vassar hopes to bring in a full class of 10 Posse veterans in the near future, emphasizing the values the Posse veterans bring to the College. According to Mallet, “There’s so much leadership and team skills that they’re bringing with them. Coupling that with a liberal arts degree really opens some doors for them.”

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