I revisited the Education Trust’s report, “Shut Out of the Military: Today’s High School Education Doesn’t Mean You’re Ready for Today’s Army” with great interest. My younger son has entered the JROTC program at his high school and is in the process of applying for an NROTC College Scholarship. He is interested in joining the Marine Corps. Through his research, he has learned the importance of a four-year college degree as part of the pathway to becoming a commissioned officer in the Marine Corps:

“Potential Marine Corps Officers are young men and women of high moral standards who have or will have a four-year college degree, are physically fit, and have demonstrated potential for leadership. Applicants must be U.S. citizens and pass the initial Marine Corps physical fitness test. Additionally, applicants must take either the SAT, ACT, or AFQT/ASVAB aptitude tests. Minimum acceptable scores are: SAT – combined verbal and math scores of 1000; ACT – 22; and AFQT/ASVAB – 74. The only age requirement is that a person must be at least 20 and less than 30 (waiverable to 35) years of age at the time of commissioning. Applicants for law programs must score a minimum of 30 on a 50-point scale, or 150 on a 180-point scale, of the LSAT.

Marine Corps officers are selected from various sources, including but not limited to Platoon Leaders Class (PLC), Officer Candidates Course (OCC) Program, Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC) Program, and United States Naval Academy.”

Not only is the pathway to becoming an officer in the military out of the reach of most high school students, pathway into the military and the resulting many post-military careers in the private and public sector are out of their reach.

According to the study:

“The study shows that many of them [today’s high school students] will be denied that ambition. Data from the Army’s enlistment examination show that, for too many of our young people, the Army and the opportunities that it offers are out of reach. This is true for men and women of all races and ethnicities, but especially for young people of color. That’s because they don’t have the reading, mathematics, science, and problem-solving abilities that it takes to pass the enlistment exam, which is designed specifically to identify the skills and knowledge needed to be a good soldier.” 

The United States Army’s Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) is the test that determines if applicants qualify for enlistment, and, if they do, what occupations—and what levels of those occupations—they are prepared for.

The ASVAB tests:

  • Word Knowledge
  • Paragraph Comprehension
  • Arithmetic Reasoning
  • Mathematics Knowledge
  • General Science
  • Mechanical Comprehension
  • Electronics Information
  • Auto and Shop Information
  • Assembling Objects

Additionally, the Armed Forces Qualification Tests (AFQT) measures cognitive ability by grouping the subtests of the ASVAB (Math Knowledge, Arithmetic Reasoning, Word Knowledge, and Paragraph Comprehension). Each branch of the military has a minimum AFQT score for entry into their branch of service.

Service Branch and Minimum Required AFQT Score
Air Force—40
Coast Guard—45

In addition to meeting the minimum requirements for enlistment, the ASVAB and AFQT scores are used to determine an enlistee’s Military Occupational Specialties (MOS), special opportunities, and high-level career paths, higher active-duty experience and pay, and prepare enlistee’s for better post-military jobs and careers.

An analysis of the ASVAB data from 2004-2009 reveals:

  • Over 20 percent of high school graduates do not meet the minimum standard necessary to enlist (which includes physical ability, no criminal record, and the necessary academic proficiency)
  • Over 20 percent of students who were qualified to apply failed to achieve the minimum qualifying score on the ASVAB
    • 16 percent of Whites failed to qualify
    • 29 percent of Hispanics failed to qualify
    • 39 percent of Blacks failed to qualify
  • States with the highest number of students failing to qualify were:
    • Hawaii
    • Louisiana
    • Mississippi
    • Washington, DC
    • South Carolina
  • States with the highest number of students with qualifying scores were:
    • Wyoming
    • Indiana
    • Idaho
    • Nebraska
    • New Hampshire
  • The ASVAB scores of many students who qualify for enlistment are so low that such students are excluded from assignments that provide high-level training and education
  • There is wide disparity between state educational systems and how well they prepare students for college, careers, and military service

The NROTC programs that my son is currently researching are at Harvard, Yale, Morehouse, Hampton, Northwestern, George Washington, and USC.  The very competitive admissions requirements for the colleges and the competitiveness for receiving a NROTC scholarship puts a military career and a world-class education clearly out of the reach of far too many students.

Students interested in pursuing a military career or applying to one of the U.S. Service Academies must commit themselves to becoming better students and to maximizing their high school opportunities. Students who find themselves attending a high school that does not sufficiently prepare them for achieving a high score on the ASVAB will have to the initiative and accept personal responsibility for self-study, identifying a tutor, or identifying a test preparation class.

“You are never given a dream without also being given the power to make it come true. You may have to work for it, however.” — Richard Bach

Download the Report…