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Chapter 2:



More than 40 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 31] 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. In fact, the Services strive to meet a 90 percent Tier 1 benchmark established by the Department of Defense.

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 32] In 1987, DoD implemented a three-tier classification of education credentials. Table 2.7 shows the percentage of FY 2002 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 1 percent had not completed high school (Tier 3). It should be noted that entry-level enlisted occupations are generally comparable to civilian jobs not requiring college education. Moreover, since nearly 37 percent of NPS accessions are age 18 or younger, they have not yet had as much opportunity for college as have individuals in the 18-24 year-old civilian population.

Although 99 percent of FY 2002 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 2002 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 2002, the Army and Air Force did not enlist any applicants without education credentials; the Navy and Marine Corps accepted very few recruits with no high school credentials (3 percent and less than 1 percent, respectively).

Table 2.7 Levels of Education of FY 2002 Active Component NPS Accessions, by Service, and Civilians 18-24 Years Old (Percent)
Education Level1
Marine Corps
Air Force
18- to 24-Year-Old Civilians*
Tier 1: Regular High School Graduate or Higher
Tier 2: GED, Alternative Credentials Alternative Credentials
Tier 3: No Credentials
College Experience
(Part of Tier 1)2

Columns may not add to total due to rounding.
* Civilian numbers and percentages combine Tiers 1 and 2 as civilian data include GED certificates with high school graduate rates.
** Tier 1 data calculated excluding GED+ participants from total accessions. GED+ is an experimental program enlisting up to 4,000 active duty Army applicants with a GED or no credential who have met special screening criteria for enlistment.
1 Service data from OUSD(P&R)(MPP)/Accession Policy have been reviewed and updated by the Services for official submission. Data presented in this table may differ slightly from the data shown in appendix tables that are taken from DMDC's USMEPCOM Edit File.
2 College experience data from the Services are defined as those individuals with the following credentials: associate degree, professional nursing diploma, baccalaureate, master's, post master's, doctorate, first-professional, or completed one semester of college.
Also see Appendix Tables B-7 (Education by Service and Gender) and B-8 (Education by Service and Race/Ethnicity).
Source: Service data are from OUSD(MPP)/Accession Policy—submitted in accordance with DoD Instruction 7730.56. USMC college experience data are from DMDC’s USMEPCOM Edit File. Civilian data are from Bureau of Labor Statistics Current Population Survey File, October 2001 – September 2002.

During FY 2000, the Army established the experimental GED+ program, in efforts 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 33]

The proportion of accessions with high school diplomas by Service for FYs 1973 through 2002 is shown in Figure 2.5. During most of the first decade of the volunteer military (FYs 1973–1982), 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.

During the mid-1970s, the Services operated with reduced recruiting budgets. At the same time, there were highly publicized reports of smaller military benefits and significant gaps in pay compared to 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 a form of national service or a return to the draft.[footnote 34] 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. From that peak, the proportion gradually declined to 91 percent in FY 2001. In FY 2002, the Services recruited accessions with slightly higher educational credentials (92 percent; the FY 2002 number is from Service data as described in Table 2.7 rather than the DMDC data sources used in Appendix Table D-11.)

Figure 2.5. Active Component NPS accessions with high school diplomas, FYs 1973–2002.

Figure 2.6 compares FY 2002 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 60 percent of Hispanic civilians have high school diplomas or alternative credentials. Given these percentages and the 90 percent Tier 1 requirement, the Services' minority recruiting pool is limited. Thus, the race/ethnicity representation comparisons should be interpreted with these data in mind.

Figure 2.6. FY 2002 accessions and 18- to 24-year-old civilians who earned high school diplomas (Tier 1) or alternative credentials (Tier 2), by gender and race/ethnicity.

[Footnote 31]  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 32]  Laurence, J.H., Military Enlistment Policy and Educational Credentials: Evaluation and Improvement (Alexandria, VA: Human Resources Research Organization, 1987); Laurence, J.H., Ramsberger, P.F., and Arabian, J.M., Education Credential Tier Evaluation (Alexandria, VA: Human Resources Research Organization, 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 33]  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 34]  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]

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