The percentage of new recruits to the U.S. Army who have at least a high school diploma has fallen nationwide, including sharp drops in Tennessee and Georgia, a recent report by a nonprofit research organization shows.
“The propensity to enlist in the military and the Army is the lowest it’s been in two decades,” said Douglas Smith, a spokesman for the U.S. Army Recruiting Command at Fort Knox, Ky. “That’s largely attributable to the ongoing war environment, the deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
A report by the National Priorities Project, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit research organization, shows a national drop in Army recruits with at least a high school diploma from 83.5 percent in 2005 to 70.7 percent in 2007.
In Tennessee, the number has dropped from 76 percent to 65 percent, while the percentage of those recruits in Georgia has fallen from 80 percent to 64 percent.
The numbers from the National Priorities Project don’t match military records, though the military also has recorded a decline in the number, said Mr. Smith and Kenny Thompson, the spokesman for the Army’s Nashville Recruiting Battalion, which covers most of Tennessee and Kentucky.
But that inconsistency is probably because the research group only considered nonprior service soldiers while the Army includes everyone in its calculations, said National Priorities Project Research Director Anita Dancs.
“We got all the data from the Army Recruiting Command, analyzed that data and came up with these numbers,” she said. “It’s important to understand that we’re looking at nonprior service recruits. That’s what we’ve done for the past four years.”
Though the drop in so-called Tier 1 recruits is not as dramatic according to the military’s numbers, it still has seen an overall decline in the percentage of recruits with at least a high school diploma, Mr. Smith said.
The Department of Defense goal is that 90 percent of recruits have at least a high school diploma. The other 10 percent must have a General Education Diploma or other diploma alternatives, he said.
In 2007, he said, the percentage of Tier 1 recruits was 79.07, down from 92.4 percent in 2004, according to military records.
One element that may have influenced the numbers in the research study is that in 2005, the Army began allowing signing bonuses for recruits with prior service, driving up the numbers of new soldiers who had served before, Ms. Dancs said.
Richard Kohn, professor of history and Peace, War and Defense at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said a high school diploma has long been the military’s “best indicator of a recruit’s ability to successfully complete both training and initial enlistment.”
“(A diploma) is an indicator of the quality of the recruit, and they’re reaching the bottom of the recruitable pool they want,” he said.
This is the first time since 1973, when the military went to an all-volunteer force, that the country has been involved in ongoing wars, Mr. Smith said.
“The late 1980s and the 1990s, for the most part, were high-water marks for our achievement in terms of high school graduates and high scores,” he said.
Responding to the demands of a protracted war and a drive to expand America’s military, recruiters are offering incentives and options for would-be soldiers. Thousands of dollars in enlistment bonuses, an age limit that was raised twice in 2006 and a new program that allows recruits to start in the National Guard and then shift to the full-time Army all are part of a drive to attract more would-be soldiers.
Overall, the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force all met or slightly exceeded their national recruiting goals for fiscal 2007, according to the Department of Defense. But the recruiting battalion that covers most of Tennessee and Kentucky did not hit its goal in fiscal 2007, said Mr. Thompson.
The group finished the fiscal year at 88 percent of its target, or 1,779 recruits, he said. The Army Reserve branch was at 97 percent of its goal, or 585 recruits for the year, Mr. Thompson said.
Dr. Kohn said the military faces a big challenge in trying to grow its ranks during an unpopular war. But the pull of the military is still very strong for many, he said.
“We have a long tradition of the use of military service for upward mobility socially and economically in our country,” he said. “The experience of military service for these youngsters will be a positive one if they can do it successfully.”