The U.S. military is undergoing a serious readiness crisis, as the armed forces experience major difficulty recruiting young Americans to serve.
As the Wall Street Journal reports, the U.S. Army in 2022 “had its toughest recruiting year since the advent of the all-volunteer military in 1973 and missed its goal by 25%. This year, it expects to end up about 15,000 short of its target of 65,000 recruits.” Similarly, the U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force fell short this fiscal year. Only the Marine Corps, the smallest of the military services, met its recruiting goal for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30.
One of the hurdles is straight up marketing-related — the military needs to do a better job reaching young people with the right messages through the right channels about the value of serving. But another problem is occurring at the other end of the recruiting pipeline, at the high schools and communities that provide the pool of potential recruits.
Schools and communities lack the data from the armed forces to demonstrate to their students that upon graduation they are well prepared to succeed in the military. If they could point to cold, hard statistics that students from their school are flourishing in the military, then recruitment might be more successful over time, because the military would be viewed as a viable post-high school career path.
A growing number of state education leaders are pressing the Department of Defense to provide them with that data.
“As state leaders, we are dedicated to ensuring all students leave high school ready for success in college or careers, and we believe that serving our country is one viable pathway a student might choose to pursue,” education leaders in more than half the U.S. states recently wrote the Department of Defense. “Unfortunately, the lack objective, verifiable data on military enlistment and persistence makes it almost impossible for states to consider military service as a successful post-high school outcome and to confirm if students were successfully prepared to serve.”
“Our priority is to ensure that all high school graduates in our states are ready for college and career success. When students decide to pursue a career in the military, we hope that —and would like to know if— they are succeeding in that career choice. Our efforts as a state education system are only improved when we know how our students are doing,” they said.
This isn’t the first time that school districts have attempted to gather information on how well their students were doing in the military. After passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in 2015, 10 states planned to use military service as one of their indicators of student success. But lacking an effective way to collect that data, that fell by the wayside.
This time around, state education leaders are proposing development of a data sharing agreement enabling any state to partner with DoD to add state-specific enlistment and service data into their respective longitudinal data systems.
“Allowing state education agencies to connect their data with military enlistment information would open the door for states to consider military service as a successful post-high school outcome. This could lead to an increased number of the 3.7 million high school graduates each year considering the military as a viable career option.”
Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth, is plain spoken about the breadth of the recruiting deficit. “The number one priority, in my mind, for this year … is fixing our recruiting problem,” she said.
Providing this type of data to states can only help.