I often wonder how many higher education institutions are aware of the Department of Veterans Affairs Yellow Ribbon Program, a substantial provision of the Post 9/11 GI Bill. The benefit is essentially a matching contribution program, allowing colleges to support student veterans up to 50% of a veteran’s tuition that exceeds the highest public in-state tuition rate. The VA will then match the institutions investment, dollar for dollar.
It seems like a no brainer from a business standpoint. By investing in the Yellow Ribbon Program, universities show a commitment to supporting our nation’s heroes and their successful reintegration back into society. In turn, the higher education institution appears committed to veterans, at least financially, and that brings more federal dollars to their school.
Stephen Lee, an Army veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is currently thriving in college thanks to the Yellow Ribbon Program. Had the UW-Madison not signed on to support veterans through the program, Stephen would have a mountain of college debt. Making matters more challenging, Stephen has a wife and two children to support beyond his college demands. His story, recently highlighted in the Huffington Post, is a commonality among this era of veterans attending college.
While the University of Wisconsin-Madison stepped up to support student veterans like Stephen, how many schools sit idly by as veterans struggle financially? The Department of Veterans Affairs currently lists schools that have agreed to participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program. The list, I hope, will continue to grow each year. Perhaps there should be a list of schools that have not signed on to the program. That may be far more revealing.
I admit it is easy for me to scold universities that have not signed on to the Yellow Ribbon Program, especially in a gloomy economic climate. Therefore, I am issuing a challenge to the hundreds, if not thousands, of higher education institutions along with a commitment of my own. Participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program and support student veterans like Stephen Lee. Your first investment in the program may not be substantial, but at least make a pledge. My commitment: Student Veterans of America will launch a scholarship program beginning with $10,000 to support a student veteran who is currently unsupported by the Yellow Ribbon Program at their school.
The challenge remains. Who will answer?
Michael served in Iraq and Afghanistan with US Marine Corps and now serves as the executive director for Student Veterans of America.