Today's New York Times has a great article on Columbia's aggressive recruitment of military veterans for undergraduate study. Columbia now has more than 200 veterans enrolled, while its closest Ivy competitor, Cornell, has approximately 50. (We won't speak about the shamefully low figure enrolled at my own alma mater.)
I've thought a fair amount about veterans in the classroom over the years, for a number of reasons: I come from a military family; my former long-term partner teaches at one of the service academies (as he did for five of our six years together); and I've taught quite a few veterans myself at RU. But although there's a lot to say about this article, what most strikes me is the way it seems to align with the argument I made a while back about the limited kinds of diversity one can expect at elite colleges: it's not surprising to me that Columbia, which is located in a big city and already has a robust undergraduate program aimed at nontraditional students, and Cornell, which has the largest undergraduate population of the Ivies, are doing the best job recruiting students who are a bit older and have significant non-academic life experience.
As I wrote in that earlier post, elite colleges that are devoted to a residential model--and especially smaller elite colleges, located in smaller communities--seem to have a harder time imagining what it would mean to add older students (or married students or students with meaningfully different academic backgrounds) into the mix.
But there's no reason for this to be true. Although the student population at RU could certainly be more cohesive, quite a lot of our students, including transfer students or those who have taken several years off, elect to live on or right near campus, as a part of the academic community, and it's not uncommon for students to forge friendships with other students who are a number of years older. Surely elite colleges could preserve their academic standards, maintain a sense of communal identity, and diversify their student bodies in new and important ways--with veterans for starters, but perhaps also with other older or returning students--if they tried. Kudos to Columbia for showing them how.