Fresh off a recruiting year in which it fell nearly seven thousand recruits short of its goal of eighty thousand, the U.S. Army is lowering its entry requirements in order to reach out to more potential recruits. Earlier this month, the army decided to accept a higher percentage of recruits who score near the bottom of military aptitude tests. This action came on the heels of a decision to enlist high school dropouts who do not have a General Educational Development (GED) credential.
Speaking to reporters at the annual convention of the Association of the U.S. Army, U.S. Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey was quick to deny that the army was lowering its standards. Instead, he stressed that the army was taking advantage of looser Defense Department rules that allowed it to sign up more high school dropouts and individuals who score lower on military aptitude tests. Until the army had difficulty meeting its quota for recruits, it had set minimum standards that were higher than those of the Defense Department, Harvey said.
In the past, the U.S. Army would allow no more than 2 percent of its recruiting class to be from the Category IV level-those individuals who scored between the sixteenth and thirtieth percentile on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB), the aptitude tests that the Defense Department gives to all potential military personnel. Under the rule change, the Army will allow up to 4 percent of its recruits to be Category IV. The army also announced that it will no longer require that at least 67 percent of every recruiting class be composed of recruits who scored in the top half (50 percentile or above) on the ASVAB. The new threshold will be 60 percent, also in accordance with Defense Department standards.
The army, which has shouldered the lion’s share of the combat burden in Iraq and Afghanistan, had not fallen short of its annual goal since 1999. Even with the relaxed standards, army officials have said that recruiters may face an even bigger challenge meeting the goal for fiscal year 2006, which began on October 1. According to Harvey, the problem is a “combination of three factors: a good economy, the war in Iraq, and parents reluctant to see their sons and daughters enlist.”
In a September 28 press release, the army announced that its new “Army Education Plus” program would “[expand] eligibility criteria to include those individuals who desire to serve but do not yet possess the required education credentials.” Through this option, the army will pay for qualified individuals to take a GED preparatory course. To be eligible, individuals must have been out of school for at least six months, meet their state’s minimum age requirements for GED testing, and achieve a qualifying score on the Armed Forces Qualification test. Applicants must pass the GED test in order to complete the enlistment process and report to initial entry training.
According to a report prepared by the army, 6.5 percent of all enlisted soldiers held GED certificates at the end of 2004. Over 75 percent held a high school diploma, while 6.8 percent had some college credit and 4.6 percent had a bachelor’s degree. The army intends to keep its ceiling on new soldiers with GEDs at 10 percent in any year.
Some recruiters were skeptical that the new program would lead to a significant number of enlistments. “I’ve got high school grads who aren’t passing the ASVAB,” Master Sergeant Joey Collins, a National Guard recruiting manager in Richmond, Virginia, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
“Army to Lower Bar for Recruits” is available at http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-recruit4oct04,0,2086091.story.