Army veteran James Jones, center, and MBA student and peer mentor at Park University, works with undergrads in the business school, Air Force Senior Airman Bradley Keating, right, and Army veteran Curtis Evans. (Courtesy of Park University)
If you can lead troops into battle, can you also lead a Fortune 500 company to a better third-quarter earnings report?
Many businesses covet veterans and the work ethic, leadership skills and maturity they typically bring. But corporate America has its own culture, even its own language, which could be foreign to vets.
A Master of Business Administration might help bridge the gap.
“Those folks come with leadership experiences in the military. Then we are taking them and further refining them and giving them this language of business,” said Kelli Kilpatrick, director of the MBA program at Texas A&M University.
Kilpatrick’s school finished fourth in our first-ever survey of business schools. Park University in Missouri; D’Youville College in Buffalo, N.Y.; Florida State University in Tallahassee, Fla.; and Excelsior College, with headquarters in Albany, N.Y., round out the top five.
Some 100 business schools responded to the detailed, 60-question survey, which asked about their academic policies, financial aid, academic and career support, even the average Graduate Management Admission Test scores of their students. We evaluated the responses, relying in part on the answers to our even more rigorous survey of full colleges and universities, whose results were published in November, to develop the Best for Vets: Business Schools rankings. Most — but not all — of the business schools responding to the survey indicated that they rely on the veterans offices and support staff of the larger universities they are associated with, rather than developing independent versions.
A significant majority of schools told us they have one person or a designated group of people who process education benefits for vets, whether functioning exclusively for the business school or for the larger university. That can be important for developing expertise in the unique, and sometimes tricky, world of GI Bill benefits.
About two-thirds of business schools said their costs for vets fall below Post-9/11 GI Bill limits, and about seven in 10 fall below the tuition assistance caps set by the Defense Department for active-duty service members.
However, barely more than half of the schools responding said they keep track of veteran students, and only a few could tell us their vets’ graduation rates.
Park University, which does keep track of how its military students are doing, has made an effort to bring education to service members wherever they may be, said Stephen Terry, the school’s director of military and veteran student services. Park teaches classes on more than three dozen installations and also offers MBA degrees entirely online, he said.
Whereas 15 years ago, a bachelor’s degree was all you needed for a good job, times have changed, Terry said.
“Now the majority of folks have bachelor’s degrees,” he said. Businesses “want to see someone … able to go on to that next level.”
What if you don’t want to use your talents to continue the success of a business but instead want to start your own company and grow it into a billion-dollar venture? Some schools will help with that as well.
The Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities is an intensive, nine-day workshop entirely free to the vets who participate. It’s offered at only a handful of schools across the country, including Florida State, Texas A&M and Syracuse University.
Randy Blass, director of the Center for Veteran Outreach at FSU’s College of Business, said that with a content-heavy schedule that starts at 7 a.m., the phrase “boot camp” is more than just a military reference.
“Every waking moment — from first light to last light — is spent thinking about, talking about, communicating business ideas,” Blass said.
You may not have to run for miles, but you will still have to give your all. “It’s not physical, but it’s mentally grueling,” he said.
Getting an MBA takes similar dedication, said Justin Doty, an Army vet working toward an MBA at FSU. During his first semester in the program last summer, he took a course load of 16 or 17 hours — a heavy schedule in any semester but even more so in summer, which is shorter than fall or spring and as a result packs more class meetings into a shorter time frame.
“You’ve got to expect that going into it,” Doty said.
But if you put on the uniform, it’s nothing you can’t handle, he added..What’s more, an MBA isn’t just for service members with discharge papers. Maj.
Joel Cunningham II got his MBA from Texas A&M while still on active duty — and the Army paid his tuition..
Running a business and taking a leadership role in the Army require similar skills, said Cunningham, who noted that he was speaking for himself and not for the Army.
He said the knowledge gained from the experience will make him a more valuable asset to the Army — and it won’t hurt when his discharge eventually does come.
“I would say that half of the value for this degree is for the Army,” Cunningham said. “But the other half is for me. I know that when I leave, it will put me on excellent footing.”