How Columbia commits to student veteran success

Columbia University's class of veterans is the largest in the Ivy League and among the highest for any highly selective school

Peer mentors who have served in the military are key to Columbia University’s efforts to help student veterans transition into higher education.

The New York institution’s focus on supporting veterans dates back to service members who returned from World War II, says Beth Morgan, the director of higher education transition and partnerships at Columbia’s Center for Veteran Transition and Integration.

In fact, Columbia’s class of veterans is the largest in the Ivy League and among the highest for any highly selective school, Morgan says.

“We’re committed to having this population on our campus and having support systems,” Morgan says. “We find student veterans make that transition into the classroom and end up doing exceptionally well.”

More from UB: Promoting veteran student success at Ohio State

In 2015, a former Marine was class salutatorian and in 2017, another former Marine became the valedictorian at the School of General Studies, at which the majority of undergraduate veterans are enrolled.

Special skills for student veterans

Along with the mentors, Columbia offers a specialized orientation for vets, as well as a version of its first-year course that is tailored toward former service members. Many of these students have been away from a classroom environment for several years, Morgan says.

The student success course covers skills such as notetaking, writing, communicating with professors and navigating course descriptions (particularly for STEM classes), Morgan says.

Columbia’s support also includes a career center that has counselors who are specially trained to work with student veterans, and multiple event series that are designed to help them pick courses that will lead to a meaningful career or begin the graduate school application process, she says.

Outside the classroom, the school arranges activities to bring service members together with other students. Pre-COVID, veterans joined other students at a two-day crafting workshop where they’d made paper out of old military uniforms.

More from UB: How Rutgers helps faculty talk to student veterans

Columbia also has several activities—which will be virtual this year—to recognize Veteran’s Day.

Across higher ed, a growing body of research and data that now offers higher ed administrators more guidance is supporting the success of student veterans.

“I hope this will encourage other institutions around the country to really open the doors a little bit wider,” Morgan says. “I always like to remind people in higher ed that they have the tools and that they’ve done this before with other student populations,—they have strategies for recruitment and access for first-generation students, students of color, the LGBTQ community.”


Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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