Veterans are finding their higher education and professional goals within reach through UChicago.
Dissatisfied that fewer than one percent of veterans who pursue a college education attend highly selective institutions, the College in 2018 established the UChicago Veteran Scholars initiative, a comprehensive program that provides customized admissions, pre-orientation, advising, housing and resources to welcome and support the success of veterans. Today, 55 student veterans have enrolled for the 2021-22 academic year, a nearly four-fold increase from the 14 who enrolled in 2019, and their third- and fourth-year peers are thriving on their paths to graduation.
In addition to helping to close a civil-military gap that extends into higher education, UChicago’s initiative is setting a new standard for supporting student veterans. In September, UChicago was named the nation’s best college for veterans by U.S. News & World Report. Assessed based on enrollment of and benefits for veterans and active-duty service members, the recognition reflects the rapid success of new programming in ensuring veterans consider UChicago and thrive as a member of the College community.
“Furthering the success of student veterans is an important component of UChicago’s commitment to enhancing access for higher education,” said Jim Nondorf, vice president for enrollment and student advancement and dean of College admissions and financial aid. “Through the UChicago Veteran Scholars program, the College is admitting and immersing student veterans with the culture and support they need to succeed. We are delighted UChicago is considered a college of choice for these scholars."
The program is led by Beau Butts, the director of veterans initiatives, programs and services at the University, where he manages what he calls a “one-stop-shop” for UChicago’s student veteran and ROTC population.
Butts joined the University in December 2018. Having served for nine years as an active duty officer in the U.S. Army, he understands the challenges that veterans can face as they acclimate to life as students, and the value of longitudinal support through their time on campus. He saw a need across higher education to enhance meaningful and truly impactful programming for student veterans.
By establishing relationships with student support offices across campus, he organized an infrastructure prepared to welcome cohorts of Veteran Scholars, grounded in a strategic vision: closing the civil-military gap. Now that the program is up and running, Butts not only serves as an academic adviser for all of these students, but also ensures they are connected to professional development, social programming, housing services and anything else they need.
“It became apparent as we did this work that we should focus on removing certain anxieties and stressors that would prevent these students from having the full UChicago experience,” Butts said. “When I was in the Army, taking care of and supporting service members and their families while accomplishing the mission was my job. When you apply that to any field it rings true: if you seek to support others, and create and accomplish a mission, you can't go wrong.”
The student veterans community has grown exponentially thanks to Butts’ efforts and the University’s full support.
“These Veteran Scholars are beyond incredible,” Butts said. “They come with extraordinary backgrounds, vision and ambition, along with humility and excitement to engage. The program wouldn't be a success without them. We could build something that looks great, but a house with no people in it is not a home.”
Below, hear from students in each of the first three cohorts of Veteran Scholars on their experiences in the program, and how they have benefited from it. Then, hear from faculty members who have given their time to help prepare these students for the rigors of UChicago.