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February 7, 2011: Three years of recession in the United States has not only made it easier for the military to meet their recruiting goals, but has brought in higher quality recruits. Last year, for example, nearly seven percent of the men and women enlisting in the U.S. Army (active and reserve), were college graduates. About six percent of those who enlisted in 2009 were college grades, but only about four percent of the recruits in 2008 were college grads.

In the last few decades, it's become increasingly common for career enlisted personnel to have college degrees. The military pays the tuition for troops to attend college, after duty. There are also courses than can be taken on-line. Thus a decade of night school will get you a degree. In the navy, for example, over half of the highest rankings NCOs (E-9), have college degrees. Some career NCOs entered service with a year or two of college, and got their degrees even faster once they decided to make the military a career. While the army encourages college educated NCOs, especially the younger ones, to become officers, many refuse to do so. These NCOs often have technical jobs and prefer that work to the management duties officers are expected to deal with.

While few of the college grads enlisting now will make the military a career, some will be persuaded to go to OCS (Officer Candidate School), which lasts a few (somewhat intense) months, and results in an additional year of active service, but most will get out after their four year enlistment is up and have the opportunity to get a graduate degree at government expense via the GI Bill.

This is all because a better educated generation of U.S. military veterans are, for the first time, receiving educational benefits nearly as good as those enjoyed by those who served in World War II. Over two million Americans have served in the military in the last decade, most of them in combat zones. About a quarter of these new veterans have applied for educational benefits under the new GI Bill. More than half of those are going to college, compared to only 28 percent under the original GI Bill. Many recruits admit they joined largely to obtain the generous educational benefits (which pay most of the high tuition and living costs associated with getting a college degree.)

The new GI Bill will provide $78 billion over the next ten years for military personnel and veterans going to college, and will allow use at private, as well as public, universities. Chief among these new changes are the ability to transfer educational benefits to a spouse or children. This recognizes the fact that nearly all officers, and an increasing number of enlisted personnel, already have college degrees. But the cost of helping a spouse or children go to college is high, and being able to use the veterans educational benefits is a big help. Maximum monthly benefits depend on the state you are in, and the school you are attending. The new law only allows transfer of these benefits while on active duty, which takes some of the sting out of the uniformed spouse being overseas in a combat zone. The new educational benefits are the closest any have come to the ones enjoyed by World War II veterans, which sharply increased the number of college educated people in the United States. This was critical in maintaining decades of economic growth after World War II.

The World War II GI Bill was passed in 1944. By the time the program ended in 1956, more than half of America's approximately 15.5 million World War II veterans, took advantage of the educational benefits. While only 28 percent went to college, the rest attended a wide variety of technical schools and programs. Still, by 1947, veterans accounted for 47 percent of all college enrollments in the United States, most attending as a result of the G.I. Bill. This was largely because advanced (beyond 4-8 years) education was, in 1940, a recent phenomenon, with only five percent of men graduating college (versus 30 percent today). But largely because of the GI Bill, the percentage of men graduating college doubled by the late 1950s, and kept increasing for the rest of the century.

 

 


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