ROTC enrollment on the rise
The Washington Post reports
that college students across America are joining the military's Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) in increasingly larger numbers than before. In percentage terms, these increases are even outpacing recruiting for enlisting personnel, which have hovered just above recruiting target numbers for the last few years.
Across the state and country, other colleges have reported increased interest and enrollment in the Reserve Officers' Training Corps. Last academic year, Army ROTC enrollment at Maryland colleges and universities went up 20 percent, from 466 the year before to 560. The numbers nationwide grew 3 percent, from 29,818 to 30,824, during the same time. Analysis
Cadet Wayne Logan, 18, believes the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, had something to do with the increases. He recently signed up for ROTC this fall at Bowie State.
"It was kind of a wake-up call that we're not untouchable," said Logan, who lives in the District. "Everybody can't be a doctor, and somebody needs to protect the United States."
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Recruiters point to other reasons their ranks have grown, namely a bigger push to recruit, new tools such as the Internet and e-mail, a bad economy and better financial incentives.
"My sense was that the events validated a choice that many of the people had already made to join ROTC," said Paul Kotakis, national spokesman for the Army ROTC.
Ann Easterling, spokeswoman for the Air Force ROTC, agreed. Last academic year, the Air Force experienced a 22 percent increase, from 14,308 cadets the previous year to 17,513. The Navy's program grew slightly during that time, from 5,831 to 6,068, a 4 percent increase.
: I think this a great thing. Military service is not for everyone, but I believe that every
American ought to serve his or her nation in some
way -- whether in the military, foreign service, Peace Corps, as a school teacher, or in some other needed capacity. I joined the military because I felt it was the best opportunity for me to serve, mature, and lead a diverse group of Americans -- and the military kept its end of the bargain for me.I think there are at least three trends at work here
. The confluence of these factors -- more than any one alone -- has led to this surge in ROTC enrollment.1. The Economy
. Like it or not, the American economy is still not doing well. Recruiters still come to campus to recruit new B.A. and B.S. holders, but not in the same numbers they did in the late 1990s -- and certainly not with the same lucrative offers. ROTC offers a steady job with decent pay and great benefits after college. I don't think you can discount this lure for the military, particularly among working class and middle class students.1.a. The Economy II - College Costs
. The cost of higher education has risen dramatically in the last 10-15 years, particularly at public institutions that used to be relatively inexpensive (or even free) for in-state residents. Much of this owes to the counter-cyclical nature of state budgets, which are tied to income and consumption taxes that do poorly in bad economic times, and squeeze state services like higher education. (See this Wall Street Journal article
on the trend in California) In a bad economy, college fees rise as administrators try to balance their budgets on the backs of students. Parents can't afford to offset these increases as they could in a good economy, forcing a student to either work or borrow money. An ROTC scholarship looks awfully attractive to a college student in this predicament.2. The War on Terrorism
. I think it's safe to say that the Sept. 11 attacks made many Americans look inside themselves to their own patriotism, and led many to look for ways to express that patriotism. The military has benefitted in some small measure from this. Recruiting numbers have not skyrocketed as they did in December 1941, but they have gone up. Some of this may owe to economic factors in the larger population, but I think these ROTC students are joining for more than just financial reasons. I've given a class to UCLA's Army ROTC seniors during the last 2 years, and my impression is that they're going out into the force with a purpose -- not just a bottom-line mentality. 3. Worldwide Deployments - Relevance and Opportunities
. At a more practical level, the war on terrorism has given the military new relevance and new opportunities. For a young lieutenant (or ensign) just graduated from college, this means real opportunities to serve abroad in harm's way where the nation depends on him or her to get the job done. That's a far cry from the peacetime military, which often revolves around paperwork, PowerPoint, and chickensh*t. The prospects for a new military officer are far more exciting today than they were for me in 1997, notwithstanding the Balkans mission then. I think this has a positive effect on recruiting as well.Bottom Line
: The all volunteer force can only work when successive generations of American men and women make the choice to enter the military -- to personall step into the breach and place themselves in harm's way. In particular, our military depends on young citizens graduating from college to make this choice -- forgoing possible riches in the private sector for a few years while they serve their nation. Unfortunately, the burden of service (as officers and enlisted personnel) has mostly been borne by America's working and middle class. This article didn't discuss the equitable issues of military service, and the current distribution of ROTC students by socioeconomic class. But this is certainly a concern of mine, and something I hope to see reported in the future.