NDRI Pentagon Theme Day Features Overview of RAND Recruiting Research

Marine recruiter photo

Recruiter photo courtesy of the U.S. Marine Corps.

The armed forces face many challenges in recruiting new service members today. The number of recruits they need is rising, and the services find themselves competing more strenuously with the civilian sector for high-quality individuals than they did in the past. At the same time, wages for skilled workers have risen while unemployment rates have dropped. As the financial return of a post-secondary education has grown, increasing numbers of recent high school graduates have chosen to enter college. 

In the push to recruit, the military services need to know which recruiting tactics have proven to be the most effective and which new ones they should consider. RAND Researcher Rebecca Kilburn described previous and ongoing efforts that RAND has undertaken to address these and other recruiting challenges at the Pentagon on July 20, 2000. 

Recent RAND projects that Dr. Kilburn discussed at the briefing include 

She also gave the Pentagon audience a brief overview of current ongoing recruiting research projects at RAND. Researchers are currently reviewing the effectiveness of college-first incentives, examining new perspectives on military advertising, and analyzing how to improve models of reserve recruiting. 

How Can the Military Compete with College and Civilian Jobs? 

A crucial problem is that interest in the military has fallen among critical demographic segments just while interest in college has risen over the last two decades. High school seniors have become increasingly inclined since 1976 to attend college rather than join the military right after graduation. 

RAND examined the reasons behind this growing interest in education and found that a college degree offers a big financial payoff. In 1979, graduates of four-year colleges earned hourly wages that were 40 percent higher than those of high school graduates. By 1997, they earned hourly wages that were 67 percent higher. 

Opportunities in the civilian sector also influence recruiting. Civilian job opportunities are excellent at the present time. The unemployment rate in April 2000 dipped to 3.9 percent, a level the economy has not achieved since 1970. 

Recent Research 

Which Recruiting Resources Are the Most Effective? 

RAND researchers Dr. Beth Asch and Dr. Bruce Orvis have found that recruiters, advertising, and college benefits are the most cost-effective resources. 

How Can the Services Attract College-Bound Youth?

Kilburn and Dr. Jacob Klerman's 1999 study of individual enlistment decisions showed that the military competes primarily with college for high-quality youth. A follow-on study (Asch, Kilburn, and Klerman, 1999), explored the possibility of presenting military service as a complement to instead of a substitute for college. The study's report enumerated ways soldiers can combine military service and college and examined the strengths and weaknesses of each option. The study also presented examples of new policies to attract college-bound youth and discussed issues required in weighing various options. 

A forthcoming report (Kilburn and Asch, forthcoming) examines the enlistment potential of various segments of the college market, such as students enrolled in two-year, four-year and certificate programs, and individuals who have graduated or dropped out of college programs. 

What Are the Implications of Recent Proposals to Enhance the Montgomery GI Bill? 

Montgomery GI Bill and college fund benefits are relatively generous compared with the costs of public colleges and federal financial aid options. However, these benefits have not kept pace with rising tuition costs. RAND examined recent proposals by the Congress to improve Montgomery benefits (Asch, Fair, and Kilburn, 2000). 

While Senate proposals would likely have only modest impacts, House proposals would:

  • have provided veterans with an incentive to choose more expensive schools, 
  • likely increase the number of high-quality enlistments, 
  • likely produce a small drop in first-term enlistments, 
  • probably result in a substantial rise in usage rates, and 
  • carry high costs. 

Ongoing Recruiting Research 

Policy Options for Recruiting College-Bound Youth 

A current RAND project, led by Dr. Beth Asch, is designing and conducting a survey of civilian college-bound youth to find out what kind of college-first incentives (tuition, entry pay/career pay, for example) will attract those individuals into the military. This survey will offer respondents hypothetical policy options, and the analysis will estimate the effects of policies on enlistment intentions. 

The Effectiveness of Advertising in the 1990s 

New communication modes have changed the face of advertising. New technologies such as satellite services, the Internet, and cable television have required new marketing strategies. These changes have implications for recruiting. Another ongoing study, headed by Dr. James Dertouzos, looks at these new options and how the military can frame its advertising to effectively market itself using these new methods. 

Toward a New Model of Recruiting for the Reserves 

Factors affecting recruiting for the military reserves -- such as the robust economy, college attendance, and more non-standard private sector employment arrangements -- have changed in recent years. RAND researchers are improving existing models of reserve supply to account for these changing factors. 

The analysis will also examine the effects of reserve component recruiting on each other and answer such questions as: 

  • Do Army Reserve enlistment bonuses hurt the Naval Reserve? 
  • Do state Guard educational programs hurt recruiting in the Army Reserve, Naval Reserve and Air Force Reserve?