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Michelle La DucaAlex YellinKyle Neering
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The Department of Defense (DOD) and government leaders are greatly interested in improving the representation of racial and ethnic minority groups in the armed forces, as evidenced by the emphasis of previous and current secretaries of defense on the importance of diversity in the military, and the 2018 National Defense Strategy statement that “diversity is essential for warfighting success”. The Senior Reserve Officer Training Corps (SROTC) is the largest commissioning source for officers, and the DOD Board on Diversity and Inclusion found that “racial and ethnic minorities are more likely to take non-academy routes to gain commissions” in the services. SROTC programs at minority-serving institutions (MSIs), therefore, provide an important avenue for students from historically underrepresented racial or ethnic groups to join the services. To this end, in the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) report that accompanied the fiscal year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, Congress called for a report on the condition of facilities that SROTC candidates use at MSIs and an exploration of how these conditions affect SROTC recruiting and retention. To inform its report to Congress, the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness asked CNA to study these issues.
A body of knowledge on facilities assessments, facilities investment, and (particularly in the civilian sector), research reveals a relationship between the condition of facilities and the recruitment of students in higher education. We relied on the existing literature about facilities investment and recruitment of students in higher education to build the methodology and approach of the current study. Our approach comprises three parts:

  • Assessing aggregated SROTC recruitment and retention data
  • Measuring and assessing SROTC facility quality, including the components of condition, capacity, configuration, and facility-related mission impacts4
  • Assessing the potential relationship between facilities quality and recruitment and retention using regression analysis and machine learning 

The analysis in this report includes only SROTC host programs—that is, programs that provide military training to students at the campus where the students attend school. Because the Army, Air Force, and Navy operate SROTC programs separately, some universities may have more than one host ROTC program on campus. To improve the likelihood of the analysis bearing meaningful statistical results, we focused our analysis on Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) and Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), which make up over 80 percent of MSI designated schools with SROTC host programs. Universities that do not receive any type of MSI designation serve as the source of our “non-MSI” comparison group. As a result, our final sample includes 169 schools and 235 SROTC programs with the following designations:

  • 28 HBCUs with 38 SROTC host/consortium programs
  • 27 HSIs with 41 SROTC host/consortium programs 
  • 114 non-MSIs with 156 SROTC host/consortium programs 

Our results from the recruitment and retention analysis indicate that four-year commission rates are higher at non-MSI programs—28 percent compared with 21 percent at MSIs. However, we conclude that this difference in commission rates likely is attributable to candidates at non-MSIs being more likely to have scholarships than are candidates at MSIs. When controlling for scholarship status, we find that programs at MSI and non-MSI have similar four-year commission rate distributions, implying that scholarship status may be a significant retention driver (i.e., likelihood of commissioning within four years). Specifically, we show that in our sample, 63 percent of SROTC candidates with scholarships commission within four years, compared to only 10 percent of candidates without scholarships, a result that is consistent across school type. Moreover, the difference in scholarship rates across MSIs and non-MSIs is driven almost entirely by a difference in the presence of national scholarship students, who appear to participate disproportionately in SROTC programs at non-MSIs. To understand this scholarship disparity further, it may be beneficial for the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) to explore why national scholarship students are choosing to attend non-MSIs.

Our results from the facility quality assessment indicate that nearly 100 percent of SROTC programs in our sample report at least one facility issue. Based on our data call, the most commonly reported issues relate to capacity and access to facilities that SROTC units share with other campus organizations. Issues related to the availability of indoor training facilities accounted for roughly half of all programs having to cancel or postpone events. 

Although most SROTC units experience some facility issues, we find a greater prevalence of issues (related specifically to condition and configuration) at MSI programs (particularly HBCUs) than at non-MSI programs. We also find that overall reporting of mission impact because of facility quality (condition, capacity, and configuration) is greater at MSIs than at non-MSIs, and that MSIs are more likely to have multiple issues that affect mission. In addition, our review of facilities sustainment investment shows that, on average, spending is similar across all schools, but that it varies widely between institutions. As a result, 57 percent of HBCUs spend less than an estimated target of 3 percent of plant value on facilities sustainment, compared to 32 percent of HSIs and 41 percent of non-MSIs.

Our results from relationship analysis between facilities quality and recruitment and retention indicate that, although we did find a weak relationship between some facility quality measures and specific recruitment and retention outcomes, in every instance scholarship rate overwhelms facility quality influence on recruitment and retention. Because this is an observational study and we cannot control fully for all factors that influence both facility quality and recruitment and retention, we cannot determine whether a change in facility quality would cause a change in recruitment and retention. Instead, we apply a pair of analytical techniques to assess whether there is a correlation between facility quality and recruitment and retention. First, we use a standard regression analysis to check for any significant relationships between our measures of facility quality and our measures of recruitment and retention. Second, we apply a machine learning technique using least absolute shrinkage and selection operator (LASSO) to isolate the characteristics of a university and SROTC program that are most useful in predicting recruitment and retention outcomes.

The analyses suggest that our measures of facility quality do not exhibit a consistent, significant correlation with SROTC recruitment and retention. We do find, however, that in nearly every estimation, the SROTC scholarship rate exhibits a consistent, significant relationship with candidate retention. Specifically, we find that a 10 percentage point increase in the share of candidates with a SROTC scholarship is associated with a 5 percentage point increase in the percentage of candidates who commission within four years. This relationship appears particularly strong for scholarships that are granted by SROTC staff to students who join SROTC after beginning undergraduate studies at the university—what we refer to as college scholarships. We estimate that a 10 percentage point increase in the share of candidates with a SROTC college scholarship is associated with a 7 percentage point increase in the percentage of candidates who commission within four years. These empirical results suggest that changes to scholarship rates are likely the most effective, and potentially efficient, means of changing recruiting and retention outcomes. Although this is the main finding and the focus of the study, we provide the following additional results from our analyses:

  • We found that facility quality and recruitment and retention goals are not included in annual assessments that the services use to assess individual SROTC program success or viability [2]. We suggest that viability assessment measures be reviewed for inclusion of these data.
  • We found that, because there is no facility planning standard for SROTC training requirements, each program must negotiate for and maintain access to training and education facilities on a case-by-case basis. We suggest establishing service-level minimum facility support requirements, which would benefit the individual SROTC program by minimizing mission impacts related to the quality of facility quality issues.

The results of this study may help advance DOD’s goal to improve the racial and ethnic diversity among the officer corps by identifying significant factors influencing SROTC candidate recruitment and retention and recommending improvements to program governance and facilities management.

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DISTRIBUTION STATEMENT A. Approved for public release; distribution unlimited


  • Pages: 84
  • Document Number: DRM-2021-U-030177-Final
  • Publication Date: 8/1/2021
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