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The U.S. military services send officers to graduate schools each year to pursue advanced degrees, primarily to fill billet requirements later. This can be costly, including such things as tuition, housing, and pay but also the opportunity cost of the officer not filling an operational billet. Participation in such a program incurs specific service requirements in return, but is that enough to recoup the service's investment? The U.S. Navy asked the researchers to assess the quantitative and qualitative returns on investment (ROI) for funded graduate education. The authors modeled the financial aspects for two sample communities within the Navy and discovered that ROI varies depending on how efficiently graduates are matched with billets and how often they are utilized in the related subspecialty. In some cases, it is simply not possible to recoup the costs financially because it would require extremely long service. On the other hand, soft skills and general knowledge that graduate education provides can increase productivity and improve decision quality. Such considerations might justify making graduate education competitive, with selection targeted toward those most likely to stay in the service and to advance to flag rank. In essence, the Navy would be broadly educating many to achieve future capabilities and an ROI from the few.

The research described in this report was prepared for the U.S. Navy. The research was conducted in the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Department of the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

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