Jack Devlin

This year, Yale’s School of Management became the first private business school in the country to offer eligible veterans admitted to its MBA program full funding for tuition and fees.

The Post-9/11 GI Bill already subsidizes a portion of veterans’ tuition at the School of Management. Now, SOM will fund the entirety of veterans’ tuition and fees that is unfulfilled by the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and the United States Department of Veterans Affairs will match the School’s contribution. The funding is available under the Yellow Ribbon program that stipulates that schools and the USDVA will contribute additional financial assistance. To be eligible for this assistance, veterans must have had at least three years of service in addition to any service that compensated their undergraduate education, or have a Purple Heart with an honorable discharge.

The change went into effect for the 2019-20 academic year, and benefits 23 of the SOM’s 50 military candidates in both the MBA and Executive MBA programs. The funding covers both newly enrolled and returning eligible veterans.

“It’s really about making it easier for veterans to include Yale on their list of schools that they want to spend time researching and ultimately getting more incredible people in the business school,” said Rebekah Melville, managing director of financial aid and MBA Admissions Committee member at the SOM.

Although Yale has participated in the Yellow Ribbon Program since June 2009, it initially only offered to cover up to $5,000 of veterans’ tuition fees. At the time, Yale also capped the yearly number of students who could receive such assistance at the University at 50. According to Melville, this limit deterred potential applicants, and Yale’s peer institutions were attracting more veterans.

Steven D. Westerfeld, a USDVA communications specialist, noted that the Yellow Ribbon program provides veterans with options when choosing an institution for higher education, and that Yale’s participation in the program gives veterans an opportunity to attend a school they may have otherwise not been able to enroll in.

Albert Yu SOM ’19 — who qualified for some Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits — said he was drawn to Yale because of its participation in the Yellow Ribbon program, even though it did not personally benefit him. Yu said Yale’s level of commitment to the program reflected “the quality of the school.”

CJ Lee SOM ’20 noted that the school’s participation in the Yellow Ribbon program “was going to be the only way” he could attend.

Lee added that the expanded program makes him “worry-free” about paying his tuition. Lee, a surface warfare officer who served in the navy from 2014 to 2018, co-leads SOM’s Veterans Club. Before coming to the SOM, he served in two different tours doing everything from operating a missile to boarding enemy boats for visible search and seizure.

“I got back from the Persian Gulf and six days later I had orientation,” Lee said.

He added that the SOM Veterans Club helped ease his transition from working on a patrol craft to attending business school by connecting him with other students who were “in the same boat.”

The SOM Veterans Club, along with SOM alumni, advocated for the expansion of the Yellow Ribbon program.

“They’ve always been active and providing their thoughts on why we should increase our match and we’ve been slowly moving in that direction,” Melville said.

She added that there was no “watershed” moment that prompted the School to offer an unlimited tuition match this year. Instead, the Veterans Club participated in a series of informal conversations with admissions officials, the registrar and deans at SOM. Lee added that there was no pushback from SOM administration during those conversations.

Melville said this change was a “no-brainer” because the USDVA matches any merit-based financial aid Yale provides. The end result, according to Melville, is that Yale can offer double the amount it spends to acquire a high-level candidate. Melville added that there has always been an active group of military members at the SOM, likely due to the school’s mission of graduating business and societal leaders as well as applicant criteria that well-aligns with veterans’ skill-sets.

Nick Bayer SOM ’19, another veteran who attended SOM, noted that due to the challenging nature of being in the military, veterans bring both experience and a high maturity level to business schools — both valuable assets — according to him. Bayer noted that a recent college graduate in the military could find themselves in charge of up to 30 people and $5 million of equipment, and deployed to Afghanistan to participate in mission sets.

“Going through that really seasons you,” Bayer said.

He added that although veterans may not have the business experience typical of their fellow applicants, they are frequently experienced leaders with high “human capital.”

Lee also found that he utilizes a similar skill-set on a cruiser and in his studies.

“The day-to-day life [on a cruiser] is probably like running a city,” he said. “It helps at the business school, looking at how you run a business — there’s financing, marketing and sales.”

Of the 43 people eligible for Yellow Ribbon at SOM, 23 are using the benefits this year.

Rose Horowitch | rose.horowitch@yale.edu