The Mix of Military and Civilian Faculty at the United States Air Force Academy

Finding a Sustainable Balance for Enduring Success

by Kirsten M. Keller, Nelson Lim, Lisa Harrington, Kevin O'Neill, Abigail Haddad

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Research Questions

  1. What are institutional perspectives regarding the ideal mix of military and civilian faculty at the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA)?
  2. Do civilian and active-duty military faculty affect cadets' academic and officership development (i.e., their development as Air Force officers) in different ways?
  3. Is it more cost-effective for USAFA to hire civilians or active-duty military faculty?
  4. What staffing challenges does USAFA currently face?
  5. How do teaching tours at USAFA affect officers' career paths?
  6. What are the potential effects of shifts in the mix of military and civilian faculty at USAFA on cadets' officership and academic development, cost, current staffing challenges, and officer career development?

Abstract

The mission of the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA) is "to educate, train and inspire men and women to become officers of character, motivated to lead the United States Air Force in service to our nation." To achieve this mission, USAFA provides cadets with both military training and a four-year college education similar to that offered at civilian institutions. Unlike at civilian institutions, however, USAFA academic classes are taught by a mix of active-duty military officers and civilian professors. Since civilians were formally incorporated onto the faculty at USAFA in the early 1990s, there has been continued debate over the best mix of military and civilian faculty needed to achieve the academy's mission. Furthermore, the Air Force currently faces difficulty in meeting USAFA faculty requirements for officers with advanced academic degrees, often resulting in understaffed departments. Funding for temporary faculty to fill these positions is also declining. A RAND study sought to help address these issues by examining the impact of potential changes to the current military-civilian academic faculty composition in five areas of importance to USAFA's mission and the broader U.S. Air Force: (1) cadets' officership development, (2) cadets' academic development, (3) cost, (4) staffing challenges, and (5) officer career development (i.e., how degree attainment and teaching tours at USAFA affect the career paths of active-duty military personnel at different points in their careers). Based on the study's findings, this report makes recommendations for a faculty composition that best balances these key factors and is sustainable into the future.

Key Findings

Civilian and Active-Duty Military Faculty Play Different and Often Complementary Roles at the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA)

  • Interviews with USAFA senior leaders, focus groups with faculty, and a survey of cadets revealed that active-duty military faculty and, to a lesser extent, civilian faculty with prior military service, serve as military role models for cadets and can provide important career advice. They are also better able to connect classroom material to Air Force operations than civilian professors.
  • Civilian faculty are more likely to have advanced degrees, teaching experience, and connections to broader academia and the research community, and, with lower turnover than their military counterparts, they are well positioned to provide academic support and continuity to USAFA's academic departments and cadets.

USAFA Faces a Range of Cost and Staffing Challenges in Maintaining Its Current Faculty Mix

  • It is less expensive for USAFA to employ a civilian as a faculty member than to employ a military officer, particularly when the officer has received an Air Force-sponsored graduate degree.
  • The Air Force currently faces difficulty in meeting USAFA military faculty requirements for officers with advanced academic degrees, often resulting in understaffed departments.
  • Analysis of the impact of USAFA instructor duty on officer career development indicates that faculty tours at USAFA do not always fit designated career paths and result in missed opportunities to gain operational and command experience. Company-grade (early-career) officers who taught at USAFA had better rates of advancement to higher pay grades; however, these officers are underrepresented on the USAFA faculty.

Recommendations

  • The United States Air Force Academy (USAFA) would benefit from increasing its civilian faculty representation.
  • The mix of military and civilian faculty should vary across USAFA departments, with military representation concentrated in academic disciplines that are needed elsewhere in the Air Force.
  • USAFA should align military faculty assignments with manpower authorizations by filling current authorizations for company-grade officers.
  • The Air Force should continually monitor and assess the impact of any changes to the current military and civilian faculty mix on USAFA's ability to fulfill its mission.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Introduction

  • Chapter Two

    Current Faculty Composition at the United States Air Force Academy

  • Chapter Three

    USAFA Senior Leader Perspectives on the Ideal Faculty Mix

  • Chapter Four

    Cadets' Officership Development

  • Chapter Five

    Cadets' Academic Development

  • Chapter Six

    Relative Costs of Military and Civilian Faculty

  • Chapter Seven

    Faculty Staffing Challenges

  • Chapter Eight

    Officer Career Development

  • Chapter Nine

    Conclusion and Policy Recommendations

  • Appendix A

    Historical Background.

  • Appendix B

    Interview and Focus Group Method and Analysis

  • Appendix C

    Overview of Cadet Survey Sample and Methodology

  • Appendix D

    Additional Information on Relative Teaching Effectiveness Analyses

  • Appendix E

    Comparison with Carrell and West's Value-Added Approach

The research described in this report was sponsored by the United States Air Force and conducted by RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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