From War to Liberal Arts College

A group of veterans is graduating from Vassar College as part of a special program to help them adjust to civilian life. But did it work?
Patrick Hood, right, served with the Army and participated in Operation Enduring Freedom, in Afghanistan. He enrolled at Vassar in 2013.

Updated | When Fernando Braga arrived at Vassar College for freshmen orientation, he immediately had second thoughts. Most of his new classmates were young and living on their own for the first time. But Braga, 34, had a wife and daughter and lived in a house off-campus.

He had also been to war.

Braga had served with the Army in Operation Iraqi Freedom. After returning from overseas, he worked in rail maintenance for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in New York City. His life experience and age set him apart from his new classmates. He felt like Adam Sandler’s character in Billy Madison, who at 27 must repeat grades one through 12. “It was like, ‘Did I do the right thing?’” Students who saw him dropping off his daughter at day care thought he was a faculty member.

His struggles weren’t unique. Veterans at other schools have spoken about how difficult it can be to fit in at college, and a study published in March in the Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability found that because of the mental health problems veterans might face after returning from combat, they are at higher risk for dropping out of college and are more likely to show lower academic achievement.

Fortunately for Braga, he had people with similar backgrounds for support. He is one of 11 U.S. military veterans who enrolled in a special program at Vassar, a small liberal arts college in Poughkeepsie, New

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