I spent a lot of time as a student veteran, and the biggest headache was always my GI Bill. For some reason, I only attended private universities, which meant I became very acquainted with what is known as The Yellow Ribbon Fund (or Program). I want other student veterans of every stripe and rank to learn from my mistakes rather than their own, so I sat down one day to begin learning how this program is utilized by private liberal arts schools like those I attended. Unfortunately, I learned that few prestigious schools maximize their use of this program.
Most prospective students, veteran or not, learn about how their school is ranked in order to assess the value of a degree. Many of the most prestigious private liberal arts schools are members of the Consortium on Financing Higher Education (COFHE), which I’ll get to momentarily. U.S. News and World Report (USNWR) has one of the most popular ranking systems, for public and private universities alike, and I recently learned that they have a school ranking specifically aimed at veterans. I was pretty excited to learn that one of my alma maters even placed third on the 2017 list.
Then I read their methodology, which read like someone pencil-drilled it, and that doesn’t reflect well on the USNWR commitment to prospective student veterans. “Schools reported on their benefits”? That’s neither objective nor reliable! For one, if a school habitually preyed upon vets for government subsidized tuition, then they could lie in order to get themselves on the list and thereby attract more veterans. Secondly, ranked schools don’t always keep verifiable records of veteran students and their use of benefits (including that third ranked alma mater of mine).
Nor is the method employed by USNWR very critical. All that is required to be on the veteran specific list are three boiler-plate criteria;
- The institution is certified for the GI Bill.
- The institution participates in the Yellow Ribbon Program or is a public school that charges in-state tuition to all out-of-state veterans.
- The institution is in the top half of its U.S. News ranking category and had 20 or more students who used GI Bill benefits to partially or fully finance their tuition the prior year.
The above three points are all pass/fail; there aren’t any measurables specific to veterans at all. Read closely and you’ll find that the list is just the regular national breakdown without any actual reassessment whatsoever; “U.S. News ranked qualifying schools numerically and in descending order based on their 2017 Best Colleges ranks.” USWNR could have been more honest by calling it “The Best Colleges we picked that also happen to accept free government funds for enrolling students with a proven track record for maturity and high achievement.” I award USWNR no points, and may God have mercy on Eric Brooks‘ and Robert Morse‘s souls.
Fuck it, this is stupid, let’s move on.
The Yellow Ribbon Program (sometimes called a “Fund” by financial aide administrators) is part of Chapter 33 of the “Servicemen’s Readjustment Act” that FDR signed into law in 1944, in part to settle the lingering complaints of the WWI veteran “Bonus Army.” Since then college tuition has exploded, especially with private universities, and the law has not kept pace. Because private colleges almost always charge more for tuition than public schools, Chapter 33 provides funds to split the different between the Department of Veterans Affairs and the university in question; the VA pays half the difference, and the university forgives the other half.
One would think the cost-benefit analysis of forgiving some (already exorbitant levels of) tuition in exchange for attracting the nation’s top student pool would be a no brainer, that private schools would jump on board, but they don’t. According to a report by Student Veterans of America, private universities enroll just 17% of veteran students; lower than both public and proprietary schools. Proprietary, for profit schools are often predatory toward veterans because of a loop hole that allows them to bypass certain regulations. But somehow, predatory educators graduate more student veterans than private schools! Private universities are also collecting less GI Bill money than public and proprietary schools as well, which just makes bad business sense.
Making matters even clusterfuckier, every large private university that I looked at pushes implementation decisions to subordinate colleges and graduate or professional schools. Those schools often restrict the number of slots, meaning student veterans essentially have to compete against one another for financial aide. But I’ll get to that in a second.
There are a LOT of private colleges out there, and I can’t look into all of them. To limit my focus, I turned my attention to COFHE, a research organization whose 35 member institutions are all “highly selective, private liberal arts colleges and universities.” I chose COFHE because its research is organized around enabling its members “to meeting the full demonstrated financial need of admitted students.” Since the Yellow Ribbon Program funds are about financial need, I figured COFHE members would be all about helping qualified veterans get into our nation’s most elite colleges. That was my first mistake, but it won’t be yours because I’ll be blogging about it all summer!
So where did I get my data? The U.S. World & News Report ranking is here, and they explain their own shoddy excuse for a methodology here. For usage statistics, rather than simply trust colleges at their word, which is just lazy, I went to the source of the funding – the good old Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA keeps an extensive list of all universities and subordinate entities to which it sends Yellow Ribbon funding, which is organized by state here. That is the list of 2014-2015 academic year, which is the most recent I can find (if you find a more recent list, don’t tell me; let me just live in peace. I don’t get paid for this shit). I plugged the data for each and every COFHE member school into a complicated Google Sheet here so I could start to make some sense of it. If you do too, then I’ll sleep a little better at night. TO make sense of the data as I’ve organized it, I’ve created a
Little Orphan Annie Secret Society decoder pin Spreadsheet Key which can be accessed here (there’s also a link in the upper left corner of the spreadsheet). Read it before you ask me questions, I will get ornery.
I’ve outlined a rough order for the summer blog series below. Numbers in parentheses (these things) indicate veteran ranking. Nationally ranked COFHE schools that do not appear on the veteran ranking are indicated below by their national rank (indicated by “N”). Many of the smaller COFHE schools are ranked on USNWR in the Liberal Arts category (indicated by “LA”), but not the National category. Where necessary, I’ve group small or uncomplicated schools by state, while large schools with multiple distinct colleges or professional schools will get their own post. Asterisks indicate a tie within Veteran, National, or Liberal Arts lists.
I’ll write a dedicated post about the Ivy League colleges (indicated in bold below), all eight of which are COFHE member schools, as well as the Seven Sisters (indicated with italics throughout), five of which are members. Most Ivies, five of the eight, aren’t on the vet ranking, but I found them all on the 2015 VA database (meaning they satisfy criteria one and two from above). Most likely, they and other prestigious schools didn’t meet the threshold of at least 20 students using GI Bill benefits in 2016.
Here’s a link to the blogs I plan to write based on the VA data for COFHE members;
Professional Schools & Other Groupings
- Undergraduate programs
- Ivy League
- Seven Sisters
- Medical & Health
- Business & Management
By Veteran Ranking
- Stanford (1)
- MIT (2)
- Duke (3*)
- University of Pennsylvania (3*)
- Dartmouth College (5)
- Cornell University (6*)
- Rice (6*)
- Vanderbilt (6*)
- Washington University (10)
- Rochester (19)
- Amherst (44)
By National or Liberal Arts Ranking
- Princeton University (1N)
- Harvard University (2N)
- Yale University (3N*)
- Columbia University (5N)
- Brown University (14N)
- University of Chicago (3N*)
- Johns Hopkins (10N)
- Northwestern (12N*)
- Georgetown (20N)
- Women’s Colleges – Barnard (27LA) & Wellesley
- California – CalTech (12N*) & Pomona (7LA)
- Connecticut – Mt. Holyoke (36LA*), Trinity, & Wesleyan (140LA*)
- Massachusetts – Smith (12LA*) & Williams (1LA)
- Pennsylvania – Bryn Mawr (31LA) & Swarthmore (4LA*)
- Other – Bowdoin (6LA), Oberlin (24LA*), & Middlebury (4LA*)
I’ll also set up a page under Advocate that can act as a hyperlink hub to access each post. I might be a bit OCD about this shit, but at least I’m high functioning, so I may as well make my eccentricities productive.
Do you represent a school named above? To submit evidence (and I mean hard evidence, I’m a skeptical son of a bitch) that any of my findings need updating or revising, feel free to use my Contact page, and be sure to identify yourself as an official and which school you represent. I reserve the right to be wrong, and I invite your help in keeping me accountable.
Do you like what you read and have a desire to support me? As a 100% disabled veteran, I am able to do this and other stuff because I receive compensation for my service connected disabilities. My VA income gives me a lot of flexibility, but I always appreciate the support of my readers. I would LOVE for you to turn that support into a recurring donation for Centurions Guild, a nonprofit providing religious dimensions of care for soldiers and veterans (full disclosure: I founded it). If you really want to help me directly, then you can always support my writing on Patreon.