Cover: Military Recruiter Access to High Schools

Military Recruiter Access to High Schools

Improving Policy and Practice

Published Apr 9, 2024

by Rita T. Karam, Kimberly Curry Hall, Anton Shenk

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Research Questions

  1. What school and neighborhood characteristics influence recruiter access?
  2. What is the level of recruiter access to and nature of cooperation with high schools? What school policies or practices hinder recruiter access?
  3. What policies and practices are needed to improve recruiter access to high schools?

Graduating high school students are a critical source of new recruits for the U.S. military, and federal statutes require that military recruiters be given the same access to high schools that colleges and employers receive. Despite this, many schools are unclear about their obligations to provide military recruiters access, and enforcement mechanisms are not well understood. As a result, recruiters' access to schools varies widely.

In this report—the first systematic analysis of issues that recruiters face in accessing secondary schools and their students—the authors seek to provide the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) with analysis and recommendations on how to improve recruiters' access to high schools and the process for gaining compliance from noncompliant schools. The authors analyzed public data on high schools and DoD data on the challenges recruiters have faced, and they interviewed recruiters and school representatives.

Key Findings

Access problems varied by state and other factors

  • Recruiters identified 5.3 percent of high schools as failing to provide what they considered to be adequate access. The most common problems were schools not complying with the law by failing to provide contact information for students, not allowing recruiters access, or both.
  • Access problems varied by state, with up to 14 percent of schools in some states failing to comply with the law or provide adequate access.
  • Access problems were greater in large schools, schools with lower proportions of students receiving free or reduced-price lunch, and in schools in urban areas.

School-recruiter interactions vary widely

  • Recruiters reported no standard process for gaining access to high schools.
  • Schools vary widely in the type and frequency of access they give to on-campus recruiters and the quality of interactions.

Systems for reporting school noncompliance and recruiter misconduct are lacking, inconsistent, or not well understood

  • Interviewees noted that past negative interactions with recruiters or local community bias against the military can pose a barrier to access.
  • Accountability systems for recruiters to report access concerns may not be well understood or inconsistently implemented.
  • Processes for reporting recruiter misconduct also lack consistency.

Recruiters need improved training and for recruiters to build relationships with schools

  • Recruiters noted a lack of training on identifying and adapting to the local school context.
  • School representatives suggested that recruiters could build relationships with schools by becoming more involved in school activities and the broader school community, such as helping with school events or coaching teams.


  • The services should engage with high schools to encourage schools to make contacting procedures clearer to recruiters, and recruiters should develop an understanding of the high school environment, invest in general activities to build high school buy-in, and develop procedures to systematically document effective engagement and activities with high schools.
  • The military should pay attention to recruiter characteristics that may help build relationships with schools, provide training on the school environment, and provide incentives for relationship-building activities.
  • The services should review their current infrastructure for reporting and accountability related to school access compliance to ensure that their systems capture relevant information and to optimize use by DoD leaders and the services.
  • The services should ensure that schools have access to information on reporting recruiter misconduct and transparency on actions taken in response to complaints or concerns.
  • DoD and the services should work closely with state departments of education to encourage clear communication to high schools about federal regulations on military recruiter access. In the absence of a clear federal definition of an 'adequate' level of access, states could provide guidelines to high schools and their districts to inform their access practices.
  • The services should also provide clearer guidance to their recruiters regarding federal regulations.
  • Representatives of the services, such as education service specialists or education specialists, could encourage school districts to take a more active role in reviewing their local access policies and practices, as well as any additional school-specific policies, to ensure that they are aligned with federal requirements. The services could have a supportive role in this effort if school districts wish to engage them.

This research was sponsored by the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Military Personnel Policy, Accession Policy and conducted within the Personnel, Readiness, and Health Program of the RAND National Security Research Division.

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