6. Virginia Military Institute
With the inspiring motto, “in peace a glorious asset, in war a tower of strength”, the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) stands as a monument to academics in the military tradition. VMI is a public military college (which means that it receives support though minimal- from the state of Virginia) founded in 1839 and located in Lexington, Virginia. It is the oldest state-supported military college in the country. Unlike other military colleges (the federal service academies), all of VMI’s students are members of the Corps of Cadets. This tradition of not offering civilian programs is in keeping with VMI efforts to offer students “a Spartan, physically and academically demanding environment combined with strict military discipline.”
This they do very well. Cadets at VMI don’t even have beds! Instead, they have what amounts to a roll-out mats that are slept on. Of course there is the strict honor code, one for which a violation can merit immediate expulsion from the institution. VMI was also the last military college to admit women, doing so in 1997 under the looming threat of a court order.
Tradition is very important at VMI. Nevertheless, the schools academics are without peer. Its engineering programs are highly ranked, as well as the school itself. VMI has produced more Rhodes Scholars than all of the other senior military colleges combined. Its strong academics, combined with its rigorous military traditions, succeed in producing highly motivated and capable graduates. VMI states that within 4 months of a cadet graduating, 97% are either serving in the military, employed in civilian occupations or admitted to a graduate or professional school/program.
While students at VMI are indoctrinated into a military lifestyle, graduates are not required to join the military, though obviously, very high percentages do accept commissions in the various branches of the armed forces. To this fact, VMI has so far produced 265 general/flag officers and 7 Medal of Honor recipients. VMI is the only school, including the service academies, to have graduates who have served as the service chief of three of the four primary armed service branches. Success is a way of life for graduates of the Virginia Military Institute.
Alumni: George Marshall, US General/Secretary Of State/Nobel Prize Winner
5. Norwich University
Norwich University has been around for a while. Established in 1819, Norwich has the distinction of being the oldest of the six senior military colleges. In fact, the U.S. Department of Defense recognizes Norwich as being the birthplace of the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program.
The founding of the university is interesting in that its founder, Captain Alden B. Partridge’s, intention was to create an education model that was wholly American and structured around a liberal arts academic curriculum. Captain Partridge’s motivation for doing this was to counter what he felt was an elitist (he called it burgeoning professional officers) class in America, and wanted a well-educated and trained militia to be able to counter it. He certainly succeeded in creating an institution that catered to academic excellence and military leadership development, a template that other institutions such as the Citadel and VMI would emulate.
Presently, Norwich enrolls about 3,400. Officially known as the Military College of Vermont, the university has a mix of both civilian and cadet students (though the majority of the student body comprises the schools corps of cadets). The school’s motto, “I will try”, emphasizes its determination to provide a high academic standard within a traditional military styled environment. The school hosts 29 majors that span 6 academic divisions (with the most popular major being criminal justice). However, it is the corps of cadets and military styled training that stands as a hallmark at Norwich. There’s a reason the school has produced 138 generals for the armed forces. There is a continuing effort to provide the highest quality military training and development possible. In these efforts, Norwich sponsors specialized ROTC units. These include the Norwich Rangers (Army) and the Mountain/Cold Weather Company (Army and Air Force), and Air Force Special Operations Unit (the Navy component sponsors a chapter of Semper Fidelis).
An interesting note about Norwich is that a high number of its graduates that are commissioned into the U.S. Army choose to become armor officers. Because Norwich is a private school, students who are a part of the corps of cadets are not required to join the military upon graduation, though obviously, high percentages do so.
Alumni: Thomas Green Clemson- US ambassador to Belgium and founder of Clemson University. Bill W. co-founder of Alcoholic Anonymous
4. US Air Force Academy
Established in 1954, the U.S. Air Force Academy (USAFA) is the youngest of the five federal service academies. It is by no means any less prestigious than the other four. Located in Colorado Springs, Colorado, the academy is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the state. USAFA’s mission, however, is not about attracting sight seers. Rather, its stated goal is to “educate, train, and inspire men and women to become officers of character, motivated to lead the Air Force in service to our nation.”
That’s a tall order, and one which the academy performs well to the benefit of its 4,417 students. USAFA is consistently ranked by such publications as Forbes and the U.S. News and World Report as one of the best colleges in the nation. Indeed, the academy’s undergraduate engineering program was recently ranked as the 5th best in America.
With excellence comes prestige, and USAFA is one of the most selective institutions of higher learning to gain admissions to. As with all federal service academies (excepting the Coast Guard Academy), a nomination from a member of congress is necessary, in addition to other stringent criteria. Once admitted, however, all expenses (tuition, books, etc.) are paid by the government. Of course, upon graduation, one is required to serve up to five years on active duty in the Air Force, or another selected branch of the armed services.
The education value is more than worth it. The academy’s curriculum emphasizes military training, academics, athletics and character development. Academically, while humanities and military studies are a significant part of the core curriculum, there is a heavy dose of engineering, science and mathematics that must be mastered. In addition, there are numerous research opportunities at the academy as well. Of course, the primary mission of the academy is to train students or cadets to become commissioned officers in the U.S. Air Force. As such, being a member of the Cadet Wing (similar to the Corps of Cadets, just a different name) takes center stage at the academy.
As with other military schools, the Cadet Wing is responsible for a great deal of its own internal administration, with leadership responsibilities primarily carried out by upper class cadets. There is the traditional honor code- “we will not lie, steal or cheat, nor tolerate among us anyone who does”- that is adhered to. On a daily basis, life for the typical cadets follows rigid pattern- formations, academics, physical training/athletics, and military training. The academy’s sports programs have benefited from the level of athletic participation required. Competing at the NCAA division 1 1evel, the academy’s football team has been competitive nationally, as well as several other varsity level sports. The combination of all of this produces men and women (who make up about 21% of the class) who go on to excel as officers in the U.S. armed forces.
Alumni: Heather Wilson- Rhodes Scholar, U.S. Representative, New Mexico