It’s Memorial Day, so naturally the media and the nation are focused on honoring the military. But, not to worry, we will all return to that ubiquitous, “Thank you for your service” tomorrow. Our collective attention span has grown quite short.
What caught my eye was an opinion piece in the NYT, “Veterans Deserve a Chance in College, Not a Free Pass.” But let’s not focus on the “Not a Free Pass” part, but on the Veterans Deserve a Chance in College. This article comes on the heels of the NYT’s May 29th article detailing a crumbling CUNY as but one example of our failing public higher education system. So, here’s the thing. Most of our military personnel are not culled from the upper or even middle – middle classes, but from fiscally challenged communities. Most enter the military as their last best option because the school or work options have failed them. “Not true,” many might say. These young people are driven by patriotism, the chance to serve. And I am sure most either enter the service believing or wanting to believe this. However, if the desire to serve was the great motivator, why don’t an equal number of the privileged enter the military? No, let’s face it, military service has become the refuge for the less privileged within our American family.
When they exit the military- as most eventually do- we thank them and… then what? For most vets, their post- military options are as dead end or as limited as when they entered the military. They quickly discover, like most young Americans, their path forward lies through a college education. The days of the well-paid factory jobs are thirty years past. If we want to honor our vets, then we must answer in the affirmative that, “Vets do deserve a shot at college.” But here’s the irony. The vast majority of vets will attend public institutions of higher education and, of those, the majority will start at a community college. So, what are we doing? De-funding public higher education and the sector currently taking the biggest hit are community colleges. Precisely those institutions our vets will attend.
Memorial Day? Honor those that serve? Then why not roll out the educational welcome mat to our returning vets? “So sorry,” we are actually saying, “we affirmatively give you two days in the year, but after that, like most Americans, you’re on your own.”