Cover: Reserve Recruiting and the College Market

Reserve Recruiting and the College Market

Is a New Educational Benefit Needed?

Published Jan 1, 2005

by Beth J. Asch, David S. Loughran


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Rising college enrollment may put college attendance in direct competition with the reserve components. Individuals can easily join a reserve unit while attending college because reservists are generally only obligated to drill one weekend per month and two weeks during the summer. However, reserve participation entails an increasingly high risk of activation of uncertain length. Individuals who want to attend college full time and finish quickly may believe that such a risk is unacceptable. RAND was asked to provide a preliminary assessment of whether new programs, such as those offered by some active components, could help the reserve components attract high-quality recruits, with or without prior service, and whether the potential of these programs warrants a more extensive evaluation, including randomized field trials. The approach we take to this assessment is largely qualitative and descriptive, because the composition of the college-bound population and how it is changing is relevant to the issue of designing educational benefits that appeal to this population. We do not explicitly test how a new educational benefit program would affect reserve recruiting. We then examine how reservists currently combine reserve service with college attendance and civilian employment and describe how the nature of college attendance has changed over time and varies according to cognitive ability. Our next step is to review the principal types of educational benefits available to reservists and provide information on their usage and on how satisfied reservists are with those benefits. We also compare the educational benefits available to reservists with those available to civilians and other military personnel. Finally, we synthesize the descriptive analyses of the college market and the way in which reservists combine work and college. The nature of college attendance has changed over time, in part because college demand is rising among less skilled youth. Among reservists ages 19 to 24, 64 percent of those attending college reported working in a civilian job, compared to 52 percent of all civilian males in this age range attending college. Of reservists ages 19 to 30 enrolled in college, 70 percent are using military education benefits. Of these individuals, about 65 percent reported in the 2000 Reserve Component Personnel Survey that their education benefits were an important influence on their decision to stay in the Reserves. We conclude that existing educational benefit programs used by reservists are generally adequate in terms of reported satisfaction with these benefits and in terms of how they compare to benefits available to other populations. However, activation disrupts schooling in a number of ways, and this risk of disruption and loss may be unacceptable to some potential recruits, especially those higher aptitude youth who wish to pursue their college studies intensively and continuously. To the extent that the reserve components seek to attract more high-aptitude recruits in the future, they may wish to experiment with recruiting programs that minimize the risk of activation while these individuals attend college. Such programs should be targeted at high-aptitude recruits and recruits training in hard-to-fill reserve occupations; and such programs must also offer greater protection from activation than is currently available to non-prior service recruits following their initial reserve training period. Implementation of such programs should entail an evaluation component similar in nature to the ongoing evaluation of the Army’s College-First program.

The research described in this report was sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD). The research was conducted in the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center supported by the OSD, the Joint Staff, the unified commands, and the defense agencies.

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