Army enrollment by college grads on the rise

The Army saw a more than 1,800 increase in recruits with bachelor’s degrees from fiscal year 2008 to 2009.

Mike Mullen

Thanks in large part to the lackluster economy, each branch of the United States military achieved its recruiting goals for the first time since the establishment of an all-volunteer force in 1973. The Army in particular has granted fewer waivers for prior felonies or health concerns, and enlisted more than one and a half times as many new recruits with bachelorâÄôs or masterâÄôs degrees. At an Oct. 13 Pentagon press conference, Bill Carr, deputy undersecretary of defense for military personnel policy, announced that the Defense Department had signed up 168,900 new active-duty troops. “We delivered beyond anything the framers of the all-volunteer force would have anticipated,” Carr said at the press conference. The ArmyâÄôs final goal for fiscal year 2009, which shifted during the year, was to recruit 65,000 new active-duty troops. The Army met and exceeded this goal, with a final tally of 70,045 new enlistees. The Army had reached its recruiting goals in each of the previous three years, but did so by allowing a greater percentage of people with prior felonies or medical issues to join. In 2007 and 2008, more than 19 percent of the new signees received some kind of waiver. This year, only 15.6 percent of recruits needed a waiver. Douglas Smith, spokesman for the Army Recruiting Command in Fort Knox, said the Army was not currently accepting any recruits who needed a major misconduct waiver âÄî which denotes a felony âÄî or who failed the ArmyâÄôs drug and alcohol screening process. Smith said the new standards were implemented during the year, as the Army realized that accepting these candidates was no longer necessary to meet the quota. âÄúWe have tightened that up,âÄù Smith said. âÄúIf we can restrict the number of waivers we offer, we do so.âÄù Smith said that it was hard to quantify exactly how much of the Defense DepartmentâÄôs and ArmyâÄôs gains were directly related to the economy. But the number of highly-educated recruits has risen dramatically in 2009 compared to the previous year. In fiscal year 2008, the Army had 3,544 enlistees with a bachelorâÄôs degree; in 2009, that number grew to 5,413. Over the same period, the number of recruits with masterâÄôs degrees increased from 284 to 523. Smith said that while the armed forces appreciate its new number and the quality of recruits, a bad economy is never good news. âÄúOf course weâÄôre not sitting here off on the side wishing that the economy would do poorly,âÄù Smith said, âÄúbecause thatâÄôs not good for the nation.âÄù MinneapolisâÄô numbers for Army Reserve enlistees actually decreased slightly this year, from 112 to 95, but the amount of active-duty recruits increased from 251 in 2008 to 314 in 2009. Sgt. First Class Corey Watts, who has worked in recruiting since June 2005 in the Bloomington office, said he thinks Minnesota has weathered the economy slightly better than other parts of the country, and so it has seen slightly lesser gains in the number of civilians inquiring about military duty. But Watts has noticed a higher quality of recruits enlisting during this year. âÄúWe are improving the quality of the men and women that we are putting in the Army,âÄù Watts said. âÄúThat, I love.âÄù The recruiting boon has occurred despite no end to violence in Iraq. On Sunday, two synchronized suicide car bombings in Baghdad killed 155 people and injured 500, the deadliest single attack in the country since the summer of 2007. In Afghanistan, this October has been the deadliest month in the United StateâÄôs eight-year effort. On Tuesday, eight Americans were killed in a firefight in southern Afghanistan, bringing the monthly total to 53 dead. âÄúWeâÄôre still aware of reticence among applicants, and especially among parents of applicants,âÄù Smith said. âÄúThatâÄôs part of the environment that weâÄôre working in as well.âÄù In February President Barack Obama announced that the U.S. would seek to withdraw all of its combat troops from Iraq by August 2010, and that all troops would be withdrawn by the end of 2011. Watts said, despite the continued threat of violence, the ArmyâÄôs mission in Iraq has changed recently. âÄú[Soldiers] actually get out into the community,âÄù Watts said. âÄú[They] provide food, try to get the engineers to get running water and be the diplomat instead of the gun-toter.âÄù Watts said recruits can choose the âÄúlevel of excitementâÄù they want, and that the positions the Army needs to fill each year include many non-combat roles. âÄúPeople have the correlation [that] you put this uniform on, you go to Iraq, and bad things happen,âÄù Watts said.