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From Draft NOtices, March-April 2005

Uncle Sam Goes to College

Military Recruiters Target Community College Students

— Jorge Mariscal

When students at Seattle Central Community College forced military recruiters off their campus in January, they fired an illumination round over a new front in the counter-recruitment movement. Traditionally both recruiters and activists have considered high schools as their primary site of engagement. Today, with the Pentagon straining to maintain sufficient force levels and some military branches failing to meet recruiting quotas, your local community college campus has joined your local high school as the target of aggressive recruitment campaigns.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, two-year colleges in the United States are where one finds well over 50% of all minority students in higher education. More than half of all these students will never finish a four-year baccalaureate program, and for some groups (Latinos, for example) graduation and transfer rates to four-year colleges are especially low. Of all Latinos who enroll in two-year college programs, 40% will leave within four years without a degree.

Given these numbers, it is not surprising to discover that in 2003 the National Defense Research Institute of the RAND Corporation produced a book-length study designed to "help the services" recruit in the college market. In the introduction to the book, researchers explain that military recruiters "have already tapped" the "traditional market," i.e., high school, especially with regard to students with a high propensity to enlist.

The "college-bound market," however, "has barely been penetrated." While not suggesting that recruiters abandon the high schools, the study recommends a mixed approach with recruiting aimed at both sites and perhaps a division of labor among the services. Marine recruiters, for example, might continue to focus on high school students given that the Marine Corps is the "youngest" branch -- the average age of active duty Marines is lower than that of members of other branches.

The report goes on to outline a number of strategies for recruiters based on the conclusion that "the greatest enlistment potential exists among two-year students and two-year dropouts." One proposed strategy is to offer incentives to recruiters who demonstrate success in the college market. Another is to establish loan repayment programs (LRP) modeled after the Army's "College First" initiative.

The "College First" program provides a number of features designed to attract college-bound students: 1) the possibility of enlistment bonuses of $6,000, 2) a monthly stipend of between $250 and $350, 3) entry into the military at a higher rank after completion of college coursework, and 4) the possibility of repayment of up to $65,000 in federal college loans.

As is the case with many recruiters' promises made to young people, the devil here is in the details. According to the FY2000 Army analysis of usage rates for the LRP, recipients used only 25% or $16,000 of the potential $65,000. Although the Pentagon is not making money from recruits as it does with the monthly $100 "education" deduction taken from the paychecks of all first-year GIs, the Army LRP used at current rates is still cheaper than up-front bonuses. RAND researchers warn Pentagon planners that should LRP participants begin to use up to 75% or more of the maximum loan repayments, the program would cease to be cost effective.

The so-called Advanced Promotion for Education program would allow recruits with some college credit to enter the military at a higher pay grade. Using the Department of Defense pay scale for 2002, however, researchers found that someone entering as an E-3 instead of E-1 would make slightly over $200 a month more, but by the end of her first year of service would make the same as the person who had entered at the lower rank.

Because most young people in the United States understand that a high school diploma grants limited earning power in today's job market, many that have been locked out of four-year schools by rising costs, artificially stringent admissions criteria, and a broken K-12 system will enroll in community colleges. These working-class youth who became accustomed to seeing military recruiters during their high school years will not be surprised to learn that the recruiters have followed them to college.

At some two-year colleges such as Seattle Central, student activists have reacted to the increased military presence. Just north of Seattle at Everett Community College, the student newspaper reported that recruiters' visits have increased, and recruiters are often seen eating lunch with students and in some cases using aggressive tactics. In New York, local counter-recruitment activists are educating students at Bronx Community College about the fine print that recruiters fail to mention.

At San Diego City College in California, where recruiters regularly tell students, "You're not going anywhere here. This is a dead end," a Latino-led student group is organizing to limit recruiter access to their campus. Students took similar actions at Santa Monica College near Los Angeles where minority students make up more than 63% of the population and recruiters roam freely throughout the day.

Across the country, community college students are moving to demilitarize their educational environment. Counter-recruitment activists who often present "college" as an alternative to military service will have to rethink their strategies given that "college" no longer insulates working-class youth against stepped-up recruitment campaigns. The return of the draft may be a ways off, but the unjust reality of economic conscription is already taking a heavy toll on young people with limited opportunities who are struggling to get a college education.

Information sources: Beth J. Asch and M. Rebecca Kilburn, eds., Recruiting Youth in the College Market: Current Practices and Future Policy Options (RAND, 2003); Steffany Bell, "Military Recruiters on Campus," The Clipper [Everett Community College], Feb. 15, 2005; Kim Calvert, "Armed Forces dip into college pool," Santa Monica Daily Press, Feb. 19-20, 2005; America's Military Population, David R. Segal.

This article is from Draft NOtices, the newsletter of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (


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