Tuesday, July 15, 1997

VMI attracts more than 17 women with academic scholarships

A local Virginia Military Institute grad says the money is well spent to attract the best women

By MATT CHITTUM
THE ROANOKE TIMES

Roanoke philanthropist and Virginia Military Institute graduate Cabell Brand says whatever money his old school spends on scholarships to attract quality female cadets is well spent.

That's why he endowed a scholarship at VMI with a preference toward Roanoke Valley applicants - especially those from Salem - and especially women. No one fitting that bill applied this year, so the $6,000 went to Jen Jolin of Monterey in Highland County.

"We've got to make special efforts to get these people there," said Brand, who believes VMI is overdue in admitting women. "We need to give as many scholarships as we can to make [the transition to co-education] a success."

Scholarships at VMI are broken into two categories: academic and merit awards available to all students, and "special" scholarships that have restrictions, like the one Brand endowed.

For next year, 17 women among the 32 expected to attend VMI have accepted $82,000 in academic and merit scholarships, an average of $4,832 each. Thirty-eight of the 429 incoming men garnered $129,000, an average of $3,394.

In the more restricted category, which includes Keydet Club athletic scholarships, women have accepted $58,160, and the men will get $343,114.

School officials acknowledge some alumni have been critical of the seemingly disproportionate amount of money going to the women. Despite the endorsement from Brand and others in the VMI family, they say it's not a matter of the college trying to buy women to attend VMI.

"No women are coming here because they are on scholarship," Admissions Director Vernon Beitzel said.

Rather, it's a matter of there being money available for the women after fewer men than expected turned down scholarships early in the recruiting process. Seven women applicants were offered full scholarships, and four accepted.

Initially, 16 men were offered full academic scholarships, Beitzel said. Only four accepted them, instead of the usual 10 or 12, and that allowed the unclaimed funds to be offered as full and partial scholarships to the incoming women and other men.

Twenty-two men accepted partial scholarships averaging just over $3,000. Seven women are on partial scholarships averaging just over $5,000.

The women got the scholarships because they met the criteria, Beitzel said.

"It's not a situation where we're going and buying students. That's the worst thing we could do," he said.

That would set those students up to fail, because they would be attending VMI for the wrong reasons, Beitzel said.

Erin Claunch, an incoming freshman from Round Hill who is one of the full scholarship recipients, said the scholarship helped in her decision, but she had already visited the Lexington campus and VMI was "pretty much already in my mind."

Claunch graduated third in her class at Loudoun Valley High School and had scholarship offers from other schools.

The distribution of scholarship funds didn't bother Roanoke Alumni Chapter President Alan Soltis.

"It certainly says something about the quality of young ladies we've attracted," he said.

That supports Brand's notion of how to go about recruiting the first women to VMI.

"Let's get the best women we can get," he said, "and as many as we can get."