Cover: Intellectual Firepower

Intellectual Firepower

A Review of Professional Military Education in the U.S. Department of Defense

Published Jan 4, 2024

by Charles A. Goldman, Paul W. Mayberry, Nathan Thompson, Travis Hubble


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Research Questions

  1. How does the DoD education system work?
  2. How does the system operate, how does it compare with civilian institutions, and how does it interact with service talent management?
  3. What are the effects of potential changes to DoD, service, and institution policies and practices?
  4. How can the system be better aligned to DoD's needs?

The authors describe the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) officer professional military education (PME) system, review how it operates, compare it with civilian educational institutions, analyze effects of possible changes, and identify opportunities to further align the system to DoD's needs. The report contains detailed descriptive information about each educational institution in the system.

The services largely expressed satisfaction with the alignment of military educational institutions with their mission needs. Technical institutions focus on more scientific or applied content and have a more direct style of instruction, while strategic/operational institutions cover broader topics with more use of techniques, such as case studies, that allow students to appreciate complex interactions, past lessons, and applications to future uncertainties. Technical institutions have important input into student selection, and their graduates often are placed into relevant follow-on assignments. Strategic/operational institutions receive students selected by the services to meet talent management goals, and the relation of follow-on assignments can be unclear.

The schools and services would benefit from clearer expressions of demand that schools can use to guide development of curricula and adoption of teaching methods. The services can build on existing talent management efforts in specialized areas by increasing the overall match between PME graduates' educational outcomes and subsequent assignment opportunities. Although some schools use a variety of adjunct and visiting faculty, others show little or no use of these options. All schools should assess opportunities to use such faculty to expand their educational capabilities and stakeholder networks in support of meeting mission demands.

Key Findings

Military and civilian educational programs span two major types, strategic/operational and technical, each with different missions, audiences, and strategies

  • All military educational institutions in the study are accredited by civilian agencies. Strategic/operational-focused programs are also accredited by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
  • Military educational institutions rely on service talent management processes to select students who can benefit from education, while civilian institutions dedicate significant resources to recruiting and admitting students.

Military educational institutions are transitioning to more–outcomes-based information to inform curriculum orientation, institutional planning, and program assessments

  • Considerable support resources and faculty commitment are dedicated to aid student graduation for both military and civilian educational institutions.
  • Services and schools report that postgraduation assignments often do not capitalize on the skills learned during officer PME experiences.

Faculty management practices vary

  • Some military educational institutions grant civilian faculty tenure; others use renewable term appointments.
  • Certain military educational institutions use few adjunct or visiting faculty, potentially missing opportunities to offer requisite expertise or develop connections to relevant agencies.
  • Faculty and student research is valued as an important part of professional development and enhancement to instruction in military educational institutions.

There is no broad indication of need or interest to increase or decrease the number of officers attending PME

  • Navy officials noted feeling compelled to provide officers for the joint PME system, despite the need for them to conduct Navy operations.
  • Civilian academic institutions can support aspects of officer education but, without adjustments, will not meet PME needs.

This research was sponsored by the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness and conducted within the Personnel, Readiness, and Health Program of the RAND National Security Research Division.

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