Webster University, then Webster College, accepted an invitation from the Department of Defense (DOD) to deliver education to the military in 1974. For the first time, students affiliated with the military would receive a college education within the gates of their own military installation. Webster College extended campuses were opened first at Ft. Sheridan and then Scott Air Force Base (both located in Illinois) according to the Webster University website.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of Webster University’s involvement in offering education directly to the military. The program has grown and currently consists of 39 extended military campuses.
“Webster and the Sisters of Loretto have a proud tradition of bringing education where, frankly, it was not available in many cases before,” said Brig. Gen. Mike Callan, USAF (Ret.), Webster’s Associate Vice President for Military and
Scott Air Force Base Webster Campus Director Stephen Forsha said he thinks opening extended military campuses fit with Webster’s traditional mission. He said Webster was founded to help students who did not have access to college education.
“There was a tremendous need of all the soldiers and military people coming back at the end of Vietnam, like any conflict,” Forsha said. “Just like now in having G.I. Bill benefits.”
Callan said the military portfolio represents roughly 20 percent of the university’s revenue and is primarily a graduate education program. Many military students at the extended campuses are in active duty; others are guards, reservists, military dependents, DOD contractors and federal civilians.
“About 98 percent of what we deliver on our 39 campuses is graduate education and about 1 percent undergraduate education,” Callan said. “Until Webster got to those 39 campuses, education was not really available to the men and women who serve our nation.”
During World War II, Webster held drives to purchase war bonds, according to the Webster University website. The bonds were debt securities issued by the U.S. Government to help finance the war effort.
A 1943 issue of the Webster student newspaper, “The Web,” said Webster College raised more than $113,000 the previous spring to purchase a P-51 fighter aircraft, which was named “The Spirit of Webster College.” In 1943, another war bond drive raised $300,000 to purchase a “bomber” for the war effort. The type of bomber or when it was purchased is not listed.
Webster was a women’s college in the World War II era. In 1962, the first male students were accepted to the Fine Arts Program. The Sisters of Loretto transferred ownership of Webster College to a lay board of directors five years later.
In 1968, male student enrollment expanded to all departments. That same year, during the Vietnam War, Webster established the Veterans’ Accelerated Urban Learning for Teaching program (VAULT), according to the Webster University website. According to the Webster Library Archives, the program was designed to “train Vietnam veterans to teach or assume other professional roles in inner-city schools, primarily at the elementary level.”
Director of Military Operations James Meadows said he works on the daily care of the extended campuses and with Webster’s military outreach programs. Meadows said the military outreach programs are a way of communicating with multiple military and civilian communities around the nation to provide and understand what is best for their communities and their educational needs.
“Webster has funded the cost of 39 extended campuses to provide our military students with the best education where they are at,” Meadows said.
Forsha said convenience and access are important for military students to receive higher education. Access to a university can be difficult while serving in the military. He said depending on where a military member is stationed, he or she may not be close to a university. Many schools on military bases offer evening classes to avoid interference with students’ military responsibilities or jobs.
“That is probably the most important key, is giving (the military student) access to be able to go to school,” Forsha said.
Callan said he is optimistic that over the next 40 years Webster will continue to bring education to the military. He said there will be challenges ahead in terms of government structures and the military’s budget.
“Budget concerns over the next (several years) seem to suggest that we are going to have to tighten our belt in many ways as an American society, and some of that impact will be seen by our military,” Callan said. “I’m optimistic in regard to Webster still being most certainly pro-military. I’m very proud to have been with Webster for over two years now, and the ways in which really every employee of the university supports what our men and women do and the education we bring to them. It’s just a joy being here.”