Cover: Geographic and Demographic Representativeness of the Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps

Geographic and Demographic Representativeness of the Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps

Published Aug 10, 2017

by Charles A. Goldman, Jonathan Schweig, Maya Buenaventura, Cameron Wright


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Research Questions

  1. How representative is JROTC at the school level with respect to demographics and geographic area?
  2. How do federal law, service policy, and school and community factors affect a school's capacity to start and successfully sustain JROTC units?

The Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps (JROTC) program serves more than 550,000 high school students each year, many of whom are at risk for failing academically or dropping out of school. Although these programs are widely distributed — programs operate in 50 states, four U.S. territories, and Department of Defense Education Activity schools — there has been recent congressional interest in whether the schools participating in JROTC programs are representative with respect to geographic area, with a special focus on whether rural areas are adequately represented. In response to these interests and motivations, this study had two primary objectives: Examine the representativeness of JROTC at the school level with respect to geography and demographics and determine how federal laws and policies affect starting and sustaining JROTC units. RAND researchers merged JROTC program data with public high school data from the National Center for Education Statistics Common Core of Data to analyze demographic and geographic representativeness at the school level. Service and school representatives were interviewed on such topics as benefits of JROTC for the students, challenges with JROTC-unit administration, and instructor hiring. The authors found that JROTC has strong representation among schools with demographically diverse populations. However, geographically, JROTC is underrepresented in rural areas and in about two-thirds of states. A number of factors present challenges for improving representativeness, and the report offers several policy recommendations for addressing these factors, including the expansion of the National Defense Cadet Corps.

Key Findings

JROTC Policy and Initiatives Have Been More Successful in Addressing Some Kinds of Representation Than Others

  • JROTC has been more successful in addressing demographic representativeness than it has been in addressing geographic representativeness.
  • Compared with public high schools overall, JROTC is well represented among public high schools with larger-than-average minority populations.
  • In general, schools operating JROTC programs have higher-than-average representation for minority students and lower-than-average representation for white students.
  • JROTC is strongly represented in schools serving economically disadvantaged populations.
  • JROTC is underrepresented in about two-thirds of states and in rural areas.

Several Factors Affect a School's Ability to Start and Sustain a Unit

  • Three of these factors in particular — school and community awareness, instructor availability, and selection and closure — can be shaped and directly addressed through changes to service policy.
  • Many factors that influence JROTC program start-up and sustainability are likely outside the control of the services, and individual services face budget constraints that cap the total number of JROTC programs that can be operated and maintained.


  • Explore program alternatives to support expansion in rural areas and underrepresented states.
  • Raise awareness of JROTC programs to increase geographic representativeness.
  • Consider flexibility in instructor requirements for rural areas and small schools.
  • Provide remote rural schools with more discretion in allocating travel funding.
  • Carefully weigh the benefits and drawbacks of changing instructor-salary policy.
  • Consider changing and standardizing program selection criteria.
  • Maintain standardized program data that can be easily linked with external data sources
  • Consider dedicated funding for JROTC.

This research was sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Accession Policy, and conducted within the Forces and Resources Policy Center of 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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