GW plummets in veteran rankings after losing top official

GW dropped more than 50 spots in a ranking of top veteran-friendly colleges and universities after officials opted to not replace the University’s top administrator for veteran and military affairs.

GW was ranked No. 84 on The Military Times’ annual list of best four-year colleges and universities for military veterans for 2017, a dramatic fall from No. 31 a year ago. It was unclear if the drop was tied directly to the University’s decision not to replace Associate Provost for Military and Veterans Affairs Mel Williams last spring, but the president of GW’s veterans advocacy organization said this academic year there has been a lack of new programs to support military-affiliated students.

University Spokeswoman Kurie Fitzgerald said GW would continue to support and draw attention to programs that benefit veterans.

“Rankings are one of many ways for prospective students and their families to decide what institution is best for them,” she said. “Our focus will continue to be on achieving academic excellence, providing an outstanding university experience to our student veterans and highlighting the important contributions of our exceptional student veterans to our city, nation and world.”

There are more than 1,800 students who are current or former military members, according to GW Veterans’ website.

Despite GW’s sharp fall, only one of its peers landed a higher spot at the list – the University of Southern California at No. 54. None of GW’s other competitors made the 130-university list.

Yannick Baptiste, the president of GW Veterans, a student-run organization that advocates for military-affiliated students, said he was confused by GW’s place because by several metrics, GW ranked as high as some of the top universities on the list. The University’s 93-percent retention rate and 91-percent graduation rate for military-affiliated students was substantially higher than the universities listed near GW, according to The Military Times’ list.

“So when we looked at the top 10 schools and what markings did they have, and then evaluated ours, we couldn’t really decipher why we dropped,” Baptiste said.

The rankings were determined by a survey of about 150 questions sent to colleges and universities as well as data from the Veterans Affairs, Defense and Education departments, according to The Military Times.

They were released after Williams left the University and management of the veterans affairs program was moved under the Division of Student Affairs. Baptiste said this academic year, student veterans have been left without a top University figure to push for new programs.

“There aren’t goals set, at least what I’ve seen,” he said. “The engagement piece is still there, but the obvious main concern is that we’re not bringing in new programs.”

Williams, a retired vice admiral and the first and only person to hold the veterans affairs position, left GW last April after about three years on campus.

Baptiste said throughout Williams’ tenure, he worked with top administrators to develop new projects in support of former service members.

“What I would say is a loss, and a notable change, is that there are things that the Admiral did, which weren’t exactly in front of the students. He developed those programs at a higher level, working with the provosts, the deans,” he said.

Williams revamped GW’s veteran academic, support and career services program under the name GW VALOR in 2013 to offer academic credit for military service. He also launched the LEAD program that allowed Naval officers with a bachelor’s degree to get a master’s degree at GW and then go on to to become instructors at the U.S. Naval Academy, Baptiste said.

GW also joined the Yellow Ribbon program, providing funding for tuition and fees not covered by the G.I. Bill.

Baptiste said he didn’t know why Williams was not replaced and that when he brought it up last May to Dean of Student Affairs Peter Konwerski and other officials in the student affairs office, “that was not a conversation they wanted to have.”

Provost Forrest Maltzman said last April that veterans support would continue to be a major priority and that the move to the student affairs office could make it easier for veterans to access career and mental health services, which also fall under the Division of Student Affairs.

The shift in the veterans program occurred as GW entered the first in a planned five years of budget cuts to central administrative units.

Baptiste declined to say whether the program had lost funding as a result of the move.

He said most of the veterans community’s efforts had been dedicated to its new veterans resource center, which opened in an F Street townhouse last fall offering service members a place to gather to socialize, study and access resources.

“There are definitely innovative things coming out,” Baptiste said. “It just means that GW Veterans has to continue to also develop things too. It isn’t just about the University.”

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