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Military Recruiting Is Still a Problem

Is a lower education standard the solution?

With the exception of the US Marine Corps, the US Military Services missed FY2023 recruiting goals. But the US Navy has a solution: eliminate proof of education requirements. In a controversial move to drive up recruiting numbers, the US Navy will adjust its entrance requirements for enlisting in the sea service for the second time in less than two years. Suppose a prospective recruit has not graduated from high school with a diploma or received a General Educational Development (GED) certificate. The US Navy will still allow that candidate to take the entrance tests.

Lowering Recruiting Standards Is Generally Criticized

New Banner Military AffairsWhenever a military service lowers recruiting acceptance standards, there is always a caution to not dummy-down the US Armed Forces. However, the failure to meet recruiting standards is now a chronic problem with no relief in sight. The US Department of Defense statistics show that, at the close of FY2023, only the US Marine Corps had met its recruiting goals – and only by the slimmest of margins, 0.64%. Even the United States Space Force, the newest branch, fell short of its target.

Nonetheless, the spotlight has been on the US Navy as it explores several avenues to improve its numbers. Correspondent Heather Mongilio, writing for the US Naval Institute’s USNI News, explained:

“Despite a year of pilot programs aimed at getting new sailors, the Navy missed all its recruiting goals in Fiscal Year 2023, resulting in higher goals for next year, the sea service announced Tuesday. The Navy missed its enlisted sailor goal by 7,464, according to the sea service’s numbers published Tuesday. It aimed to recruit 37,700 sailors but ended the FY 2023 with 30,236.”

One of the pilot programs that proved ineffective was to lower the acceptable test score for entering the US Navy – this initiative became policy in 2022. The idea was that the entrance test or Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT), an assessment to determine a recruit’s mental and educational fitness to serve, might not be an accurate indicator of being able to perform satisfactorily in a specific job or vocation. The assessment for an individual’s most fitting vocation is a battery of tests known as the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery or ASVAB. While the AFQT measures an applicant’s overall suitability to join the military, it is merely one component of the ASVAB, which also includes aptitude tests for specific job areas. In 2022, the Navy began to place more emphasis on these vocational scores, so that a recruiting candidate who might not otherwise have the smarts to join can do so if they show potential in a particular US Navy role.

“The change means that prospective Sailors who have high enough ASVAB line scores to qualify for a Navy rating will not be held back by a low AFQT score, which can vary relative to how their peers did on the test,” Cmdr. David Benham, Navy Recruiting Command spokesman, told the Navy Times in an email.

Previous Initiatives Proved Ineffective

In the absence of any appreciable improvement in recruiting, the latest attempt to widen the door for entering the seaman ranks is based on the premise that a high school diploma or GED as evidence of attaining some modicum of learning may not be necessary to hold down adequately a job aboard a US Navy warship.” We get thousands of people into our recruiting stations every year that want to join the Navy but do not have an education credential. And we just turn them away,” Vice Adm. Rick Cheeseman, the Navy’s chief of personnel, told the Associated Press.

According to Cheeseman, as many as 2,400 interested candidates were denied the opportunity to qualify for joining the Navy, and “as many as 500 of them could score high enough to get in.” The rationale the Navy is using asserts it’s because of the impact of “COVID-19 trends of non-traditional schooling, early exit from high school to support their family,” or a variety of other reasons for not having a high school diploma according to an official Navy statement quoted in the Navy Times. Regardless of the reasoning behind the new personnel policy, there is a sound basis for the thinking. Lowering acceptable scores for entry is lowering standards. However, not requiring a secondary education diploma or GED may not be.

In many cases, a high school diploma is no more than a recognition of spending time in a classroom. Whether anything was learned is unknown. Possessing a GED certificate indicates that at least there was a passing score on a standardized exam. Additionally, in many cases, the competition for these prospective recruits in the commercial marketplace doesn’t require high school graduation certificates. Many young people are disenchanted with institutional learning in public schools but excel in computer skills or other vocational pursuits that are valuable in all military services. So, what the Navy is doing may work.

The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.

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