Cover: Elements of Success

Elements of Success

How Type of Secondary Education Credential Helps Predict Enlistee Attrition

Published Feb 20, 2014

by Susan Burkhauser, Lawrence M. Hanser, Chaitra M. Hardison


Download eBook for Free

FormatFile SizeNotes
PDF file 0.4 MB

Use Adobe Acrobat Reader version 10 or higher for the best experience.


Purchase Print Copy

 Format Price
Add to Cart Paperback63 pages $21.95

Research Question

  1. Are applicants with less than a 50 on the Armed Forces Qualification Test who have distance learning or homeschool credentials more likely to attrit within the first three years than those with high school diplomas (all else being equal)?

The U.S. military services have traditionally used a tiering system, including education credentials such as high school diplomas, in combination with Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT) scores to help gauge the likelihood of a recruit persevering through his or her first term of service. But what about less traditional credentials, such as diplomas earned through homeschooling and distance learning? The Office of the Under Secretary of Defense (Personnel and Readiness) asked RAND to examine whether its current education-credential tiering policy is still useful in predicting first-term attrition. The authors examined attrition rates at 12, 24, and 36 months of service for all enlistees from 2000 through 2011. Using statistical regression techniques, they compared attrition rates for those with distance learning or homeschool credentials to those of high school diploma holders, after controlling for other observable population differences. Overall, the analyses support current tiering policy classifying homeschool diplomas as Tier 1 if a recruit's AFQT score is 50 or higher (i.e., they are treated the same as high school diploma holders) or Tier 2 if a recruit's AFQT score is lower than 50. The results also support classifying distance learning credentials as Tier 2 regardless of AFQT score.

Key Findings

Holding a Homeschool or Distance Learning Diploma Instead of a Regular High School Diploma Had Negative Effects on Attrition Rates

  • Overall, estimated attrition rates for recruits with homeschool diplomas are slightly, but statistically significantly, higher than attrition rates for recruits with regular high school diplomas. The effect is larger for those with Armed Forces Qualification Test scores lower than 50.
  • Holding a distance learning school diploma affected attrition more negatively than did holding a homeschool diploma, regardless of whether the recruit scored above a 50 on the AFQT.


  • On the basis of these narrowly focused analyses, the Department of Defense should continue to use education credential for identifying applicants who are more likely to attrit. The current method of grouping education credentials predicts attrition better than not considering education credential at all. However, we cannot say, at this point, whether using a different system for grouping education credentials and Armed Forces Qualification Test scores into tiers would better predict attrition.

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

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

This document and trademark(s) contained herein are protected by law. This representation of RAND intellectual property is provided for noncommercial use only. Unauthorized posting of this publication online is prohibited; linking directly to this product page is encouraged. Permission is required from RAND to reproduce, or reuse in another form, any of its research documents for commercial purposes. For information on reprint and reuse permissions, please visit

RAND is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.