More than 30 years of research indicates that enlistees who are high school graduates are much more likely than non-graduates to complete their first term of enlistment (80 percent versus 50 percent). [footnote 28] In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Services gave high school graduates, including those with alternative education credentials, higher priority for enlistment. In the mid- to late 1970s, the Army, Navy, and Air Force classified GED holders and high school graduates differently because evidence showed that persons with GED certification experienced higher first-term attrition. Today, in all Services, applicants with GEDs need higher AFQT scores to enlist than do high school diploma graduates.
Additional research indicates that those with other alternative credentials, such as adult education and correspondence school diplomas, also have attrition rates greater than regular high school graduates. [footnote 29] In 1987, DoD implemented a three-tier classification of education credentials. Table 2.7 shows the percentage of FY 2000 active duty NPS accessions by education tier. Ninety-one percent of recruits possessed high school diplomas and/or some college education (Tier 1); 8 percent held alternative high school credentials (Tier 2); and 2 percent had not completed high school (Tier 3). It should be noted that enlisted occupations are generally comparable to civilian jobs not requiring college education.
While nearly 99 percent of FY 2000 accessions were in Tiers 1 and 2, only 79 percent of 18- to 24-year-old civilians were high school graduates or possessed a GED certificate. Differences among Services in FY 2000 high school graduate accessions were small, ranging from 99 percent (Air Force) to 86 percent (Army). The Army had the highest proportion of recruits with Tier 2 credentials (14 percent); the Air Force had the lowest (1 percent). In FY 2000, the Army and the Air Force did not enlist any applicants without education credentials; the Marine Corps and the Navy accepted very few recruits with no high school credentials (2 and 5 percent, respectively).
During FY 2000, the Army established the experimental GED+ program, to identify non-high school diploma graduates who would have low attrition rates. The Army allows up to 4,000 Active Component and 2,000 Reserve Component applicants who have earned a GED certificate or have no education credential to enlist without counting against the 90 percent tier 1 benchmark for NPS enlisted accessions. To qualify for the GED+ program, recruits must have left high school for a non-disciplinary reason, be too old to return to high school, have no moral character problems, and score high on a test of motivation to enlist. [footnote 30]
The proportion of accessions with high school diplomas by Service for FYs 1973 through 2000 is shown in Figure 2.5. During most of the first decade of the volunteer military (FYs 19731982), the Services differed significantly in the proportion of high school diploma graduates. In addition, there were significant variations across years. Across Services, the proportion of accessions with high school diplomas fell from 75 percent in FY 1978 to 66 percent in FY 1980. The drop was most pronounced in the Army, declining from 73 to 52 percent over that period.
Figure 2.5. Active Component NPS accessions with high school diplomas, FYs 19732000.
During the mid-1970s, the Services operated with reduced recruiting budgets. At the same time, there were highly publicized reports of shrinking military benefits and significant gaps in pay comparability with the civilian sector. Media articles cited the hemorrhage of talent from the Services due to loss of benefits, and the percentage of Servicemembers eligible for food stamps.
Because of lower education levels of new recruits, lower test scores, and increasing minority representation during this period, debates began on whether to replace the volunteer force with either a form of national service or a return to the draft. [footnote 31] The Executive and Legislative branches of government funded major initiatives to reinvigorate the volunteer military, enhance recruiting programs, and improve Servicemembers' quality of life. Military pay and benefits and recruiting resources were increased substantially in 1981, resulting in a rapid increase in the quality of accessions. The proportion of high school graduate recruits jumped from 66 percent in FY 1980 to 83 percent in FY 1982. Further incentives, such as the Montgomery GI Bill and the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps College Funds, and Service emphasis on improving the quality of life for Servicemembers and their families led to improved recruiting. The proportion of high school graduates climbed to a peak of 98 percent in FY 1992. As previously stated, in FY 2000 the proportion of high school diploma graduates was 91 percent.
Figure 2.6 compares FY 2000 accessions with civilians of similar age on the percentage of high school graduates (Tier 1) and those with alternative credentials (Tier 2), by gender and race/ethnicity. Although nearly all military recruits are in Tiers 1 and 2, the same is not true of 18- to 24-year-old civilians. Some dramatic differences in education level, by race/ethnicity, are evident in Figure 2.6. Only 74 percent of Black civilians and 57 percent of Hispanic civilians have high school diplomas or alternative credentials. Given these percentages, the Services' minority recruiting pool is limited. Thus, the race/ethnicity representation comparisons should be interpreted with these data in mind.
[footnote 28] See Flyer, E.S., Factors Relating to Discharge for Unsuitability Among 1956 Airman Accessions to the Air Force (Lackland AFB, TX: Personnel Research Laboratory, December 1959); Elster, R.E. and Flyer, E.S., A Study of the Relationship Between Educational Credentials and Military Performance Criteria (Monterey, CA: Naval Postgraduate School, July 1981); and Lindsley, D.H., Recruiting of Women, presented to 1995 Committee on Women in the NATO Forces Conference, June 2, 1995. [back to paragraph]
[footnote 29] Laurence, J.H., Military Enlistment Policy and Educational Credentials: Evaluation and Improvement (Alexandria, VA: Human Resources Research Organization, September 1987; Laurence, J.H., Ramsberger, P.F., and Arabian, J.M., Education Credential Tier Evaluation (Alexandria, VA: Human Resources Research Organization, September 1996); and Laurence, J.H., Does Education Credential Still Predict Attrition?, paper presented as part of Symposium, Everything Old is New Again - Current Research Issues in Accession Policy, at the 105th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association, Chicago, August 1997. [back to paragraph]
[footnote 30] Rutherford, G., Hispanic Population Projections, Enlistment Propensity and the FY 2001 Recruiting Results - information paper (Washington, DC: Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense, 2001). [back to paragraph]
[footnote 31] In December 1976, the Department of Defense released a report, The All Volunteer Force: Current Status and Prospects, that listed seven alternatives to the all volunteer military. On June 20, 1978, the Senate Subcommittee on Manpower and Personnel of the Committee on Armed Services conducted an extensive hearing, Status of the All-Volunteer Armed Force, on the problems of a volunteer force and the need to examine alternatives to the all volunteer military. [back to paragraph]