Washington--The Defense Department plans to reduce the size of its Reserve Officer Training Corps at colleges and universities by 20 percent over the next five years, and has already begun the process by limiting the number of rotc scholarships awarded this school year to eligible high-school graduates.
Only 19,115 students received the scholarships during the 1990-91 school year, compared with 20,954 for the previous school year.
The scholarships cover the cost of tuition and fees, and provide a stipend of $100 a month. On graduation, the student is commissioned and agrees to at least a three-year commitment to military service.
In 1989, rotc scholarship students made up 27.6 percent, 21.1 percent, 22.7 percent, and 22.3 percent, respectively, of the total number of officers commissioned for the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines. That translates into 2,613, 1,399, 1,709, and 351 officers, respectively.
“Does this kill us? No, it doesn’t,” said Army Maj. Gen. Wallace C. Arnold, an rotc commander based at Fort Monroe, Va. “Does this mean we’ll have to work harder to get the quality young men and women that we want? Yes it does, and we’ll just have to muster up to that.”
He added that new scholarships for Army rotc students during the 1991-92 school year will be reduced 47 percent, from about 3,000 to 1,600.
General Arnold made his remarks at a December symposium in Arlington, Va., that explored the future of the rotc program and the nation’s military colleges.
The program has long been seen by high-school graduates, particularly those from low-income backgrounds, as a desirable way to gain a postsecondary education and improve their economic status.
But with President Bush, the Congress, and Defense Secretary Richard Cheney all suggesting that U.S. troop strengths were due for a trimming in the wake of the political and economic reforms in Eastern Europe, students, admissions counselors, and military officials began to question what effect such cuts might have on rotc programs.
The military buildup in the Middle East since August in support of Operation Desert Shield has caused further confusion among military personnel officers and educators over exactly how their programs, schools, and students will be affected by world events in the coming months.
Frank Griffis, the public-information director for Norwich College in Northfield, Vt., the nation’s oldest military college, said the personnel cutbacks are making it hard to recruit new students because forgraduating cadets, “it’s a roll of the dice as to whether they’ll get a [military] job.”
Moreover, Desert Shield, which so far has claimed more than a dozen of Norwich’s 1,207 students, all of whom are enrolled in rotc, is illustrating in graphic terms--isolation, uncertainty, and death--the possible consequences of military enlistment, he said.
Charles C. Moskos, a professor of military sociology at Northwestern University, agreed that Desert Shield is making recruitment of high-school students for rotc programs difficult.
“I don’t think we’ll see rotc back to normal levels--1988-89 levels--after Desert Shield because people are now aware that the military can put you in harm’s way, and that’s just coming clear for the first time since the Vietnam War,” Mr. Moskos said.
To prepare for the cuts in military personnel and maintain its attractiveness to high-school graduates, Norwich has developed a leadership program that allows cadets in their junior and senior years to train for entry into the Peace Corps.
While the program does not guarantee Peace Corps placement, Mr. Griffis said, it does demonstrate that there are other opportunities for cadets to apply the leadership training they received under the rotc program.
In fact, military and education officials who attended last month’s symposium concluded that military colleges can also effectively train students for alternative national-service programs.
“Just as we now prepare an officer corps, we believe it is now possible to prepare an engineering corps, an environmental corps--whatever skilled professions our nation needs,” said Barbara Zartman of the Peace Corps.
Added Brig. Gen. Robin G. Tornow, commandant of the Air Force rotc: ''These kids are anxious to serve. They are aggressive, and they are full of ideas. The key thing to understand is that the military is being driven by economics as is everything in this country, and we must treat it as a business.”
The military generally projects its troop needs and strengths on a rolling five-year basis, but must wait until the Congress and the President approve a yearly budget before final numbers can be determined.
That makes all projections beyond the current fiscal year--including the 20 percent reduction figure--relatively fluid, according to Lieut. Comdr. Steve Duettermann, a dod spokesman.
However, the Army has already shut down rotc programs at 11 colleges, and 50 of the remaining 413 are scheduled to close this June. The Air Force and the Navy, which runs the Marines’ program, have not canceled any programs.
Over all, about 89,000 students participate in rotc on more than 500 campuses.
Commander Duetermann said the more than 1,000 junior rotc programs run in high schools across the country would not be affected by the troop reductions because they do not train officers.