The transition from the battlefield to the boardroom is not always proving easy.
As with a growing number of colleges and universities, the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management is launching what it sees as a unique initiative to recruit and support veterans for its master of business administration (MBA) program, selling itself as military friendly with the marketing slogan “Change your stripes.”
“This is a population we’ve long identified we want to help out with as underserved,” said Philip Miller, assistant dean of the full-time and part-time MBA programs. “It changes the complexion of the class.”
Despite recent programs to address the high unemployment rate for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, joblessness for that group remains stubbornly high at around 10 percent, 2 percentage points higher than the rest of the population. The answer to the problem often has been to turn to education and the lucrative benefits of the Post-9/11 GI Bill. More than 800,000 veterans and their family members are using GI Bill benefits, and that number is expected to rise as the U.S. military draws down its forces and sends active-duty troops back into the civilian world.
Carlson is not unique in recognizing a growing market for veterans seeking MBAs. Syracuse University, State University of New York-Empire State College and the University of South Florida-St. Petersburg were awarded $1.5 million in grants last year to develop innovative MBA programs specifically designed for veterans, including course credit that recognizes military training and experience.
“Why not lower the cost and ease the transition of military service members by giving them credit for their leadership experience and training?” asked Michael Dakduk, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Student Veterans of America (SVA), which has 500 chapters on campuses in 50 states and three countries. “Why is that such an innovative concept?”
Last month, the Graduate Management Admission Council, the association that administers the graduate management admission exam, announced it was partnering with the SVA to assist student veterans interested in MBAs and other business-related master’s degrees. A website called Military MBA has been developed to direct veterans to the best MBA programs for their needs.
Business schools at Dartmouth College, the University of Michigan, Cornell University, Carnegie Mellon and Duke University have been ranked as the top five “best value schools” in previous surveys by Military MBA. The University of Tennessee has an Aerospace and Defense MBA program.
Officials of the Carlson School say its program is likely the only one in the country with an on-staff retired military coordinator, a dedicated pool of scholarship funding and as deep an experiential learning program.
The school’s military initiative has so far focused on veterans and service members in midcareer, often in their late 20s and early 30s, many from the ranks of captains and lieutenants or at the higher enlisted ranks. The latest group includes several graduates of West Point and the Naval Academy and the 2008 Army Enlisted Soldier of the Year, whose brother is a Carlson graduate and was promised a job at Cargill when he returned from Iraq. There are nine veteran full-time students in the MBA program and the school hopes to add 10 to 15 veterans for this year’s recruitment class.
As they make their way around the building, it’s hard to distinguish the veterans from the rest of their classmates, except that their posture may be a little more upright and their handshakes a little more knuckle-crunching.
The university recently hired Charles Altman, a retired commander in the Navy, to expand its military initiative. Altman, a former associate dean at the Marine Corps War College, not only recruits veterans (the Carlson School has advertised in places such as the football program for the Air Force vs. Idaho State game) but also connects them to services and financial resources once they arrive on campus.
While many students are able to use GI Bill benefits to fund much of their schooling, others use a complicated mechanism of federal aid and other scholarships. The cost of the two-year program ranges from $70,000 to $90,000, depending on whether you are an in-state or out-of-state student.
The school hopes for a springtime offensive to boost its endowment. On Friday, the school announced final confirmation of a nearly $7 million gift toward a goal of $10 million that would allow Carlson to award 10 two-year scholarships per MBA class of $40,000 each. The gift is from two MBA alumni who are Vietnam vets. Carlson pledges its success at job placement after graduation and leaving school with little or no debt. The online magazine G.I. Jobs named the school one of its military-friendly schools for 2013, citing its 99 percent graduation rate for veterans. The average starting salary for a graduate last year was slightly more than $100,00.
Even before the initiative began, the Carlson school worked with veterans. Severin St. Martin, a West Point graduate with two deployments to Iraq, is a 2012 graduate now working at Boston Consulting. Karly Mangen, a captain in the Minnesota National Guard who deployed to the Persian Gulf, is an associate marketing manager at General Mills.
Mike Conroy, who spent four years in the Marines and 15 years as a St. Paul cop, is now a second-year student. He has tweaked a résumé that includes a stint guarding the president. He said his military and police experience means his résumé may land on a second-look file but that much still remains before getting hired.
“A friend said it best: After all you’ve got going for you, if someone still doesn’t want to hire you, maybe that’s not the place you want to work,” he said.
Miller, the assistant dean, hired about a dozen former military members while working in the private sector, including a former Navy diver who was a SEAL for nine years. At one point the former SEAL was one of a group of MBAs working on a particularly stressful strategic plan directly for the CEO of the company. The SEAL had his head down working on his laptop. Concerned about the pressure, Miller asked how he was doing.
“He said, ‘I’m not cold. I’m not wet. I’m not bleeding. And I’m going to be sleeping in my bed tonight. So I’m good.’ ”