Discontent within the veteran community at the University of Massachusetts Boston has been growing. Not because services, once offered, are now disappearing and not because affordability is down. No, they are more and more disgruntled because UMass Boston lies about how much they do for veterans.
The frustration felt by many veterans at UMass Boston is not new; it comes from a lack of understanding by faculty and administrators and insufficient support from UMass Boston’s Veteran Affairs office. However, tensions began escalating after the spring semester kicked off when the above photo was posted on UMass Boston’s landing page. To the untrained eye, it’s just some military folks walking towards the buses after a successful day of classes. However, the picture angered many who could only see uniform violations, and a campus community that views veterans only as opportunities for advertising and money. The photo linked to an article lauding the wonderful programs and policies that UMass Boston has created and crafted in order to support its veteran student population. That article is a work of fiction.
The headline of that article is “UMass Boston Returns to Military Friendly List for Sixth Time.” However, basic inquiries into this claim began to shed light on why veterans at UMass Boston aren’t exactly happy with that rating. Military Friendly, the entity that gave UMass Boston a “Bronze” rating claims to use publicly available information and survey responses to complete its evaluation of some 8,800 participating institutions. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this methodology *if* the information you are assessing is accurate. This is where Military Friendly’s rating system fails. Specifically with UMass Boston, veterans have noted that information being reported to the VA is inaccurate, and upon reviewing the data UMass Boston provided Military Friendly, it’s evident that this trend has not only continued but has become exacerbated. The university is not only providing false information in order to be recognized as a military-friendly institution, but also using a dubious service to get that recognition.
Under Military Friendly’s system, schools self-report information is filtered into six separate categories: Tuition Information, Government Programs, Admissions, Financial Aid, Military Policies, and Student Support. Setting the tuition information aside, there are 39 separate claims an institution can make about how it supports veterans. UMass Boston claims to have each policy, program or accommodation in place; however, 16 of these claims are false, and three additional claims are only half-truths. This means that nearly half of the information UMass Boston supplied to Military Friendly is untrue. Some of the most glaring examples include claims about veteran mentoring, specialized career guidance, customized orientation programs, and the incorporation of an “Explicit commitment to serving the military and veteran community” into the university’s mission statement. A full list of false claims made by UMass Boston can be found at the end of this article. Each of these falsehoods was easy enough to uncover using UMass Boston’s own website, which further undermines the credibility of the Military Friendly rating system.
UMass Boston is not the only UMass school on the Military Friendly list of colleges; UMass Dartmouth is also mentioned. However, UMass Lowell is conspicuously missing. Conspicuously because UMass Lowell is ranked 73 by Military Times “Best for Vets Rankings”. Military Times also uses a self-survey of universities; however, it cross-references that information against multiple state and federal databases, as well as other commonly used private rating systems. Additionally, Military Times’ self-survey is more extensive than Military Friendly’s; it encompasses more than 150 different questions compared to Military Friendly’s 100 question survey. Furthermore, Military Times weights, and adjusts the weights of, different categories based on input provided by veterans and student veterans. This approach provides a better overall ranking system for veterans to use when determining whether a school they are interested in is ‘military friendly’. It’s important to note that fewer than half of the schools rated in the top 10 by Military Friendly even make Military Times “Best for Vets” list, and none of them are in the top 10. This seemingly implies that Military Friendly is just a service used by institutions that want to be seen as “Military Friendly” but don’t want to put in any of the work needed to actually be “Military Friendly.”
UMass Boston knows all of this; its business school made the 2015 “Best for Vets” list and was, rightfully, very proud of that fact. In fact, that accolade is still touted on the UMass Boston Alumni page in an area where UMass Boston grads can “Support Student Success for Military Veterans” by donating to the “Center of Excellence for Veterans”. According to the alumni site, “The center consolidates campus services that support veterans and is a one-stop resource center for them to receive individualized attention.” When asked, veterans had no idea what the “Center of Excellence for Veterans” was but would love such a resource. In fact, Jeffrey Suddy, President of the Student Veterans Center, was willing to provide the following comment:
“I’m more than a little troubled that the university is advertising, and potentially accepting money, on behalf of a resource center for veterans that doesn’t exist. The Student Veterans Center has actually become the de facto “one-stop” for UMass Boston veterans who need help because they just don’t get support anywhere else once the university cashes in on their Veterans Affairs or tuition assistance benefits.”
Suddy went on to say that the Student Veteran Center has been working on establishing a Veteran Success Center on campus that would provide all the resources of a “Center for Excellence” and professional counseling from a VA counselor.
These frustrations are causing some veterans to warn off other service members. Some veterans have openly admitted that they “made a mistake” in coming to UMass Boston and are steering their comrades toward other institutions that offer more for veterans. Student Veteran Center President Jeffrey Suddy seemed to know a little about this.
“I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t heard discussions like this before. Suffolk and Northeastern are usually the names that get thrown around because they are also in Boston, but I’ve also been hearing UMass Lowell a little more recently. What people have to understand is that veterans are always looking to get the best bang for their buck. I think UMass Boston has the capacity to offer that; it’s just not doing it right now.”
This could become problematic for UMass Boston. Veterans don’t make up a large percentage of the student population, but if university figures are right, 600 students is not a small number of students. These students are clearly taking into account what they are getting from UMass Boston and they’re comparing that to what their veteran colleagues at other universities are getting. If they are telling prospective students not to come here, UMass Boston may encounter difficulties with maintaining its reputation as a “Military Friendly” university and could lose the nearly 10 million dollars that veteran students bring here every year.
Now, perhaps there’s been a misunderstanding. It’s possible that all of these services are offered and our Veterans just aren’t aware of them or where they’re located. However, the Veteran community is not so large that you couldn’t blast out an e-mail to them once a semester reminding them of what we offer. We have several research surveys flood our inbox weekly, but veterans have yet to be informed of the services that are seemingly provided for them.
With all the different ways in which the administration could engage students, you would think that UMass Boston veterans would at least have some cursory knowledge of all the resources this university offers them. No; the reality is that the programs and policies don’t exist and that there are no counselors and resources out there somewhere that no one knows about.
Sadly, this university has gotten away with short-changing veterans for far too long. They’ve also become very comfortable with lying to student veterans and agencies, designed to point veterans in the best direction, including the Department of Veterans Affairs. They have been able to get away with this because, for the most part, veterans don’t want to make too many waves. They are here to get an education and then enter the workforce; many of them don’t have the desire to pick a fight with the administration. This needs to change. Veterans have a tool that they can use through the VA to report universities that run afoul, and they need to use it. UMass Boston doesn’t deserve the reputation it has, and prospective student veterans don’t deserve to be lured in by false promises of support services that aren’t available. The Department of Veterans Affairs GI Bill School Feedback Tool can be found here: https://bit.ly/2UQ8RJ7.
One more parting thought: this university’s inability, or unwillingness, to address its shortcomings regarding veteran services is exactly why the veteran community here is frustrated and largely invisible. When student veteran efforts to address institutional failures are stonewalled or bogged down by the administration, our campus is worse off for it. The fact that veterans who, at one point or another, gave up everything to defend our way of life now feel like they’ve been abandoned is shameful. What’s more shameful is the fact that UMass Boston administrators are willing to boldfaced lie to current and prospective student veterans about what services are available here and are unwilling to work with current and prospective students to provide the services that they need. Our university is failing our student veterans; if we can’t fix that we don’t deserve to have them here and we shouldn’t be surprised when they leave.
UMass Boston’s List of Lies
- Active duty or reserve military student returns without penalty after deployment
- Numerous veterans have reporting that UMass Boston’s practices do not follow this policy.
- Returning students receive reimbursement or remission of course fees
- See above.
- Committed to the 8 Keys to Veterans' Success (half-truth).
- UMass Boston claims to be committed the 8 Keys; however, veteran experiences tell a very different story. The 8 Keys can be found here: https://bit.ly/2sIGriY
- Signed the VA's Principles of Excellence for serving veterans and service members (half-truth).
- UMass Boston’s use of deceptive recruiting practices violates the Principles of Excellence.
- Waives the admission application fee for military students and veterans (hit or miss)
- Veteran success in receiving an application waiver is hit or miss. Instead of being automatic, veterans have to be aware that they are eligible for the fee waiver, and then engage the office of Veterans Affairs to have the paperwork completed.
- Provide admissions events or special admissions information sessions customized for prospective students who are military service members.
- The university does not do this.
- Customized student orientation program for military students.
- The university does not do this.
- Mentoring/on-boarding programs for new military students or veterans.
- The university does not do this.
- Tuition discounts specifically for military students.
- Veterans report paying the same price for classes as their civilian counterparts and are unaware of a tuition discount program being in place.
- Explicit commitment to serving the military and veteran community.
- If such a policy is in place, it is not accessible nor readily available to veterans.
- Commitment incorporated into the institution’s mission, vision and values.
- Veterans and military members are in no way mentioned in the university’s mission or vision statements.
- Formal policy in place regarding business conduct and compliance when admitting, educating, advising, and placing military and/or veteran students.
- If such a policy is in place it is not accessible nor readily available to veterans.
- Transition Assistance.
- No formal transition assistance program or policy is in place. Veterans report struggling with the transition from military to civilian life and having no resource other than the Student Veterans Center to turn to. The Student Veterans Center in its current form is ill equipped to handle all transition issues veterans and military members have; however, they are currently out-performing the administration’s Veterans Affairs office.
- Formal mentoring or advising program in which faculty or staff members who are current or former members of the military mentor students who are military service members or veterans.
- No such formal program exists.
- Veteran-to-veteran peer mentoring program.
- No formal university program exists that meets this definition.
- Dedicated social space for gathering (e.g. a student lounge or veteran center) reserved specifically for military service members and veterans.
- While the university does have a Student Veterans Center, that entity does not meet this standard and is funded by the UMass Boston Student Government, not the university.
- Campus/social networking events planned specifically for veterans? (half-truth)
- Veterans do report that one such event does take place in the fall; however, they also report that the event is not designed to benefit the veteran community at UMass Boston and is instead used as a recruitment tool.
- Specialized career guidance counseling or other programs to help military students identify careers to pursue.
- No such program exists at UMass Boston.
- Industry–employer relationship programs available to active duty military students and veterans to assist with post-graduate employment outcomes.
- No such program exists at UMass Boston.
- Center of excellence for Veterans (UMass Boston Alumni page).
- No such center exists at UMass Boston.