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Will Yellow Ribbon Lead More Military to the MBA?

Business schools welcome the leadership and life experiences that military candidates bring to their programs, and many have signed on to partner with the US Veterans Administration to help fund veterans’ tuition under the “Yellow Ribbon” program. That initiative officially launched August 1, so schools say it’s too soon to tell whether it will significantly increase the number of veterans in MBA programs. But early signs are encouraging, and schools remain optimistic.

The Yellow Ribbon program is part of the Post 9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008, the most significant veterans benefits package since the GI Bill of 1944. The standard tuition benefit under the Post 9/11 bill is capped at the highest in-state public undergraduate tuition, sometimes leaving a substantial gap between the benefit and the tuition bills at many MBA programs. Under Yellow Ribbon agreements, schools agree to contribute an amount above that provided in the basic GI bill benefit toward tuition and fees, and the VA agrees to match what the school elects to pay.

Some 54 of the 92 colleges and universities on GMAC’s list of Military-Friendly Schools—schools that provide special incentives for MBA candidates with military backgrounds—have signed up for the Yellow Ribbon program. Because it was late in the admissions cycle before schools could sign on, the Yellow Ribbon program did not generally have a significant effect on MBA enrollments this year.

Penn State University signed on to Yellow Ribbon late last spring. Ann L. Mallison, MBA senior admissions adviser at the Smeal College of Business, says the school saw a rise in applications from military personnel, and veteran enrollments were up from two in 2008 to six this year. Based on inquiries and anecdotal evidence, she suspects that Smeal may see more candidates through Yellow Ribbon in the coming year.

The situation’s much the same at Washington University in St. Louis. While Yellow Ribbon did not have much of an impact on current enrollment, Kevin M. Kiley, senior associate director of MBA admissions at the Olin Business School, has started to receive more email inquiries about Yellow Ribbon and reports more military officers stopping by the Olin booth at MBA fairs.

The George Mason University School of Management, which holds graduate classes both at its main campus in Fairfax, Virginia, and in a satellite office just three miles from the Pentagon, enrolled four Yellow Ribbon students this fall, three in the MBA program and one in its Technology Management program.

“Because of our location, we have had a long line of military officers in our MBA program,” says Angel Burgos, who directs GMU’s MBA and MSA programs. Though it’s too early to say definitively, Burgos speculates that Yellow Ribbon may have contributed to the doubling that GMU saw this year in military candidates entering its MBA program—eight this year vs. four last year—and he hope that trends continues.

Overall, implementation of the Yellow Ribbon program has been slowed by delays in benefits processing in the US Department of Veterans Affairs. In Congressional testimony on October 15, Keith M. Wilson, director of the VA’s Office of Education Service, told the House of Representative’s Committee on Veterans Affairs that technical and administrative problems meant that it was taking 35 days to process claims for benefits under the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Wilson said that out of some 82,000 veterans currently enrolled in college, approximately 30,000 had yet to receive benefits. He said the VA is working to clear the backlog and improve its processes.

VA Secretary Eric Shinseki recently said that the Veterans Benefits Administration would roll out a new automation tool this month that is designed to speed the processing of education claims.

Technical SNAFUs aside, Burgos says the Yellow Ribbon program “adds a new dimension to an existing relationship” that business schools have with the military. The presence of veterans in the classroom, he says, “benefits both the individual and the MBA community as well.”

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