In June, the U.S. Army failed to meet its target numbers for new recruits for the second month in a row (The New York Times, July 10, 2007). The Army was 1,000 short of its recruitment goal last month and 400 short of its target for May. These months usually provide an influx of applications from recent high school graduates. Army officials have acknowledged recruitment challenges in the face of declining public support for the war in Iraq and concern over the rising number of American casualties. To promote recruitment and meet the demand for troops, the Army has increased its spending on advertising and enlistment bonuses, but it has also accepted recruits with lower qualifications. This week’s Stat of the Week examines recent trends in the educational attainment of new recruits.
According to the National Priorities Project, a nonprofit organization that tracks government spending, the U.S. Department of Defense spent $1.8 billion on advertising and recruiting in 2006, and the Army revamped its marketing strategy, targeting not only potential recruits but also parents and other adults who can influence their decision to join (MSNBC, Oct. 9, 2006). In addition, the Army has added strong financial incentives. Over half of all recruits qualify for bonuses averaging $11,000, and some highly skilled recruits receive packages valued up to $40,000 (MSNBC, Oct. 9, 2006). Such strategies, however, have not helped the Army meet recruitment targets, so it has also permitted lower educational requirements to tap into a larger pool of potential applicants.
The Army has invested years of research and analysis in setting benchmarks for the basic skills and aptitudes needed to guarantee that it has a workforce of optimal performance and efficiency. High school graduates are preferred, and its target number for recruits with a regular high school diploma is 90 percent. In the late 1980s and through the 1990s, about 85 to 90 percent of Army recruits had a high school diploma (U.S. Department of Defense, 2004). In recent years, the percentage of high school graduates in the Army has dropped considerably.
In 2005, 84 percent of Army recruits had a high school diploma. In 2006, only 73 percent of Army recruits graduated from high school (National Priorities Project, 2006). The percentage has been in this low range before—in the 1970s and early 1980s following the Vietnam War, when the military changed to an all-volunteer force. In 1980, at the lowest point, only 52 percent of Army recruits had a high school diploma (U.S. Department of Defense, 2004).
All states, except for North Dakota, had a drop in the percentage of Army recruits with high school diplomas. Nevada had the largest drop in the percentage of Army recruits with a regular high school diploma. In 2005, 80.6 percent of Nevada’s Army recruits had a high school diploma, but in 2006, only 56 percent had a diploma.
The Army is also falling short of its benchmark for “high quality” recruits. The Army defines a high quality recruit as one who earned a regular high school diploma and scored in the 50th percentile or greater on the Armed Forces Qualifying Test (AFQT). The AFQT is a norm-referenced multiple-choice test that evaluates arithmetic reasoning, word knowledge, paragraph comprehension, and mathematics knowledge. The Army normally seeks to ensure that at least 60 percent of its recruits meet high quality standards, but only 47 percent of recruits met the high quality criteria in 2006. No state met the high quality recruitment goal. North Dakota had the highest percentage of high quality recruits (59 percent), while Mississippi had the lowest percentage (35 percent).
© 2006 National Priorities Project, Inc.
“High quality” recruits have a regular high school diploma and score at the 50th percentile or above on the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT).
Source: EPE Research Center, 2007. Data obtained by Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to the U.S. Department of Defense from the National Priorities Project (NPP).