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Chapter 9:

Trends in Qualification Rate

As explained in Chapter 2 of this document, the primary criteria used to determine eligibility for military service are education achievement, scores on the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT), ability to meet physical standards, and moral character screening. The Committee examined recent data related to each of these standards to see if there were positive or negative trends in regard to future military recruiting. As previously mentioned, high school graduation rates have been on an upward rise over the past several decades. The Committee noted that, overall, this rate increased from 80 percent in 1972 to 88 percent in 2000. Only small increases were seen for Whites over this period. However, among Blacks there was a 20 percent increase in the proportion of high school graduates from 65 percent in 1972 to 85 percent in 1995. Although upward, the trend for Hispanics was far less dramatic, increasing from 58 percent in 1976 to 63 percent in 2000. In general, however, the increases in high school graduation rates are a plus for the Services as they represent an expansion of the qualified pool on at least this dimension.

The Committee examined aptitude trends using data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). This is an achievement test given every two to four years to students in 4th, 9th, and 12th grades in various subject areas, including reading, mathematics computation and concepts, and science. Outcomes for these three assessments were of particular interest due to the overlap of their content with certain subtests of the AFQT (e.g., word knowledge, paragraph comprehension, arithmetic reasoning, and mathematics knowledge). In examining trends in NAEP scores over the past three decades, the Committee found that reading results were relatively stable, however there was evidence of gains made in math and science starting around 1982. This latter result led to the conclusion that additional increases in these scores may be seen in the future. In comparing racial/ethnic groups, the Committee noted that Whites tend to score highest, followed by Hispanics and then Blacks. However, between 1970 and 1990, these gaps closed significantly, which suggests that more minority youth may be found in the group labeled "highly qualified" for military service—high school graduates who score above the 50th percentile on the AFQT.

To gain some insight into the potential trends regarding moral character and physical screening, the Committee examined data on drug use, arrest rates, and two common medical problems—asthma and obesity. Although a modest increase in the reported usage of marijuana among youth was noted starting in 1992, the conclusion was reached that this poses little problem for the Services even if it should continue because most do not require a moral waiver for pre-service marijuana use. Decreases in both violent and property crimes in the late 1990s suggest that this favors the military and will pose few problems in recruiting. The news regarding health status is less favorable. Asthma rates doubled between 1980 and 1995, and rates of obesity in 12-17 year-olds tripled between 1980 and 1999. If such trends continue, the Committee concluded, they could have a negative impact on both military recruiting and performance.


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