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#151 Senior Military Colleges

Jeff Dobbin 200 Things about Norwich, Military Milestones

The senior military colleges (SMCs) are institutions of higher learning that operate Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) programs under special requirements and privileges bestowed by United States law and Army regulation. The designation was created in 1996.

In addition to Norwich University, these six venerable institutions are The Citadel, the University of North Georgia, Texas A&M University, Virginia Military Institute (VMI), and Virginia Polytechnic Institute (Virginia Tech). Norwich is the oldest of these, and in ways big and small can be considered an ancestor of the other five. Norwich is also the only senior military college that is fully private.

Each senior military college is required to operate a uniformed corps of cadets beyond their ROTC unit, though only VMI still requires all students in all programs to belong to the corps. They must enforce military standards in lifestyle and discipline comparable to the federal service academies and immerse cadets in a military environment around the clock. Unlike typical ROTC programs, the Department of Defense is not permitted to terminate or reduce a senior military college’s ROTC unit in wartime. The SMCs are also entitled to other privileges such as graduates who meet the criteria being eligible for commission.

When Norwich was founded in 1819, our nation’s military was young, and there existed only one other military institution of higher learning, the United States Military Academy at West Point.  The other five SMCs were founded between 1839 (VMI) and 1876 (Texas A&M). Three of the five—Texas A&M, Virginia Tech, and the University of North Georgia—are land-grant colleges. They were established under the provisions of the 1862 Morrill Act, which advanced a national model of higher education inspired by Alden Partridge.

Partridge’s influence also inspired the creation of a number of state-supported military institutions. While leading drill instruction and teaching a course on military science for students at the University of Virginia in the mid-1830s, he helped generate public support for military education in that state. And in late 1836 he was encouraged by Governor George McDuffie of South Carolina to offer similar instruction in Charleston. Partridge’s efforts paved the way for the founding of VMI in 1839 and The Citadel three years later.

Thus Norwich is not simply the oldest of the senior military colleges. Without Norwich and the vision of Captain Alden Partridge, the other senior military colleges might not exist today.