Last month, in response to the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, the United States Peace Corps took the unprecedented step of recalling all volunteers from around the world. More than 7,300 volunteers in over 60 countries were brought home — then summarily dismissed.
Where will they go? What will they do? John Clarke and Melissa Booth at Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business have a proposal.
Tulane, in New Orleans, Louisiana, is offering expedited admission and scholarships covering up to 50% of tuition for students entering graduate programs in summer and fall 2020 and spring 2021. The plan originated at the university level but “we were quick to jump on the idea,” says Clarke, the Freeman School’s associate dean for graduate programs and executive education. “We were like, ‘Absolutely. This is a great idea. What can we do to get on this?'”
About a dozen Peace Corps alums have already begun the application process, says Booth, assistant dean of graduate education and director of admissions and financial aid. Two were admitted this week. “Being uniquely positioned in New Orleans, which is an extremely diverse city, these students come to us from all different backgrounds, bringing their experiences in the Peace Corps all over the world,” she says. “I think they look at this city as a way to bridge the gap of their unique upbringing plus their Peace Corps experience, into a city that just thrives with a lot of international perspective and diversity.”
A VERY ATTRACTIVE GROUP OF POTENTIAL STUDENTS
Peace Corps volunteers bring a lot to the table. They’re self-starters who are not afraid of challenges or getting outside of their comfort zone. They’re leaders who know how to solve problems in adverse conditions, with limited resources. And they are confident and ambitious — qualities always admired and sought after in graduate business education.
Which explains why Tulane is not the only school interested in appealing to this group. Through the Coverdell Fellowship, a graduate program for returned Peace Corps volunteers, 18 U.S. B-schools — alongside dozens of schools of government, public health, social work, international studies, and more — are offering huge discounts, and in some cases free rides, to this batch of leaders with suddenly uncertain futures. Arizona State University W.P. Carey School of Business, William & Mary Mason School of Business, Colorado State University College of Business, Duke University Fuqua School of Business, Duquesne University Palumbo-Donahue School of Business, Georgetown University McDonough School of Business, George Washington University School of Business, Kennesaw State University Coles College of Business, Northern Arizona University W. A. Franke College of Business, Penn State Smeal College of Business, University of Arizona Eller College of Business, University of Delaware Lerner College of Business, University of Notre Dame Mendoza College of Business, University of Rochester Simon Business School, University of San Francisco School of Management, University of South Carolina Darla Moore School of Business, Wake Forest University School of Business, and the Willamette University Atkinson Graduate School of Management all have some form of financial aid for Peace Corps alums, often enough to cover an entire degree program.
The Thunderbird School of Global Management is also offering scholarship money and other incentives to Peace Corps alumni, including a minimum $25,000 scholarship. It’s not a new program, says Dean Sanjeev Khagram, but it is one the school is proud of.
“In addition to the typical Coverdell Peace Corps fellowship, which we do regularly, we’re basically giving a minimum of $25,000 for any Peace Corps returnee,” Khagram tells Poets&Quants. “Depending on their undergraduate GPA and GMAT scores, they can go up from there. So we’re being very aggressive with those categories of students.
“The Peace Corps volunteers were brought back, and the next cohort is not being sent out — which means you have more than 7,000 people, and those students almost universally go onto graduate school right after that. Right? So that’s an opportunity that for us.”
A LONG HISTORY WITH THOSE IN COMMUNITY SERVICE
John Clarke and Melissa Booth at Tulane Freeman agree that Peace Corps alumni are appealing B-school candidates. They know it for a fact because their school has worked with former Peace Corps volunteers — and others in community service — a lot in the past, particularly after 2005.
“Part of why our reaction was ‘This is a great idea, an opportunity to help,’ is that we have quite a long history and experience of having Peace Corp volunteers returning and doing the Freeman MBA,” Clarke says. “Tulane University and the Freeman School, being in New Orleans, have quite a strong history and reputation with various populations that are focused on community service. Very early, as an undergrad institution, we chose to require community service as a requirement for graduation. This was very much formalized after (Hurricane) Katrina. We were a city in need and our students became an important vehicle for supporting the city. That’s continued to this day. We often get students that are coming from Teach for America, IDEAcorps, and the Peace Corps applying to our programs, in part just because of that reputation.
“Both Melissa and I have had some firsthand experience with some really strong students who have come to us after the Peace Corps, and who have done really, really well in our program and have usually gone on to be successful. When we see on the applicants’ resumes that they’ve been in the Peace Corps, or they’re currently in the Peace Corps, we’re always really excited about that, because of these personal experiences that we’ve had.”
No Peace Corps deployments are likely before October, according to the government agency’s website, so Tulane is moving fast to allow for expedited applications to this fall’s MBA entering class.
“Peace Corp students obviously have unique backgrounds which are ideal for our MBA programs, but that doesn’t mean they can’t take advantage of our one-year programs as well,” Booth says. “We offer a lot of those. It allows them the opportunity to complete it in a year. There’s the year commitment. It gives them the tools to enter the workforce. After that year, I’ll work with our career management center.
“With the scholarship piece, we really require the bare minimum. Obviously, a resume is fantastic, and a transcript that identifies their coursework. We really are looking for people who have strong academic backgrounds, recognizing that our Peace Corps people come to us from a variety of different backgrounds. We want to figure out a way to bridge the gaps with the right programs, the correct academic profile. And given the COVID-19 crisis, we understand that some of them won’t be able to take the GMAT or GRE in time. We’re working with them and waiving that. Based on that, we’re willing to offer 25% to 50% fellowship. Highly qualified students could get even more, but we wanted to make sure that the Peace Corps volunteers knew that anybody who was admitted would be getting a fellowship.”
Tulane Freeman is promising a 10-day turnaround on application reviews and decision. Booth says the offer for quick review and sizable scholarship funding also stands for U.S. Fulbright Initiative scholars, numbering around 1,600, who also have been recalled amid the pandemic.
‘A LOT OF THIS IS DEFINITELY A PUNCH IN THE GUT’
The Freeman School’s offer is already drawing interest. Around a dozen inquiries have been made, Booth says, and last week two Peace Corp alums were admitted to the MBA program, currently ranked 74th by U.S. News & World Report and 56th by Poets&Quants.
“It’s really fascinating how fast they’ve been able to accelerate their interest and get everything submitted to us,” Booth says. “I think a lot of this is definitely a punch in the gut, but we’re really excited about having them in the program.”
Adds Clarke: “I’ve known peers who’ve gone into the Peace Corps. I used to work in industry, and we hired a lot of Peace Corps volunteers. I think some of the attributes that they bring to the program are that they’re often self-starters, they are people who are not shy of a challenge. They’re willing to take things on and put themselves outside of their comfort zone. They have this somewhat entrepreneurial attitude, or approach — not that they necessarily want to start companies, but to solve problems and to operate in resource-constrained environments requires you to be creative and innovative. I think they have a combination of competence, and confidence in themselves to try and work toward certain solutions.
“Then there’s that problem-solving skillset and ability to operate in the face of adversity, or in constrained conditions, which makes them very successful students within our programs. And those skillsets also are really powerful when they move on to do things later in their life, whatever those might be.”