While thousands of Duke students, including myself, were enjoying their spring break, tragedy struck this nation. Last week, six soldiers were injured while training in Vermont, seven airmen died in Iraq during a helicopter crash, and two aviators were killed when their aircraft crashed in the Florida Keys. The death of the two aviators hit me hard. One aviator was my former student and the other was a man I just talked to last month. We talked about how Duke was a great university.
In hindsight, I may have lied to him. Two weeks ago, I learned through an unofficial source that of Duke’s 6,400 undergraduate students, only two are veterans, two. Duke must do more for our veterans.
To be fair, Duke is a military friendly school. Duke hosts ROTC units, several military fellowships, and has over 200 veterans enrolled in its graduate schools. Duke also employs veterans, including Coach K and Gen. Martin Dempsey (ret.). These accommodations may seem like enough to many, but what people do not realize is that these accommodations are geared towards aspiring, current or former military officers and not enlisted veterans.
The divide between American society and the armed forces continues to widen. The Pew Research Center concluded that only 7 percent of living Americans have served in the armed forces. This is down from 18 percent in 1980. FiveThirtyEight recently reported that only 0.4 percent of the current population serves on active duty. As the civilian-military divide continues to grow, fewer schools will recognize the value of a veteran unless they are able to make an impact on campus.
A 22-year old veteran is not like an 18-year old high school senior. A veteran’s experiences and knowledge set them apart. Most veterans have made life-or-death decisions during their tour of duty, know how to make consequential decisions in a matter of minutes and have developed leadership skills that are not comparable to your average high school honor society president. If Duke wants to continue to promote a diverse and inclusive campus, it must recognize the skills and experiences a veteran can bring into the classroom.
There are many misconceptions about our enlisted airmen, coast guardsmen, soldiers, sailors and marines. The first misconception is that women and men enlist because they do not have the drive or academic ability to attend college. From my experience, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Many enlist because they cannot afford college, especially at Duke. The second misconception is that enlisted veterans only know how to take orders and are mindless drones. With the military’s evolving “do more with less” attitude, many veterans have learned to think on their feet and outside the box. The last misconception about veterans is that the skills they learn in the military are not transferable to the classroom. Veterans have developed invaluable skills that will help them in the classroom, including time management and work ethic.
Here is what Duke needs to do so more veterans are opening acceptance letters on April 1:
- Duke leadership must attend the Duke Veterans Symposium and Workshop. The event is being held at the Duke’s Sanford School on March 26th and is an excellent opportunity for Duke leadership to interact with veterans.
- Move Duke’s Veterans Affairs office to the Bryan Center (West Campus). You stand where you sit. Currently, the Veterans Affairs office is on East Campus. The Bryan Center is home to the Student Affairs office and is full of organizations that are designed to serve specific student populations that the University values.
- Create an undergraduate admissions officer specifically for veterans. Similar to the Bryan Center, there are admission officers for specific populations, but not veterans. This officer should be a veteran who can help the undergraduate admissions department and prospective students translate military skills and navigate the GI Bill. This officer can also connect the school with Service to School and other veteran organizations.
- Offer and promote more scholarships to veterans. Publishing more financial scholarships may encourage more veteran applicants. Financial aid, the GI Bill and the Yellow Ribbon program may not cover Duke’s annual tuition alone. The $70,000 price tag is enough to deter most enlisted personnel who may be only making $30,000 a year and providing for a family.
Every day, American men and women are putting their lives at risk, whether they are fighting abroad or training stateside. We owe it to them to provide premiere educational opportunities. I want Duke to be the greatest institution it can be and allow more veterans the opportunity to earn one of the country’s best educations.
LCDR Bryan Orlowski is an officer in the U.S. Navy and a Master of Public Policy student at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy. The views expressed are those of the author and do not represent the views of the U.S. Navy or the Department of Defense.