When students at Seattle Central Community College forced military
recruiters off their campus in January, they fired an illumination
round over a new front in the counter-recruitment movement. Traditionally
both recruiters and activists have considered high schools as
their primary site of engagement. Today, with the Pentagon straining
to maintain sufficient force levels and some military branches
failing to meet recruiting quotas, your local community college
campus has joined your local high school as the target of aggressive
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, two-year
colleges in the United States are where one finds well over 50%
of all minority students in higher education. More than half of
all these students will never finish a four-year baccalaureate
program, and for some groups (Latinos, for example) graduation
and transfer rates to four-year colleges are especially low. Of
all Latinos who enroll in two-year college programs, 40% will
leave within four years without a degree.
Given these numbers, it is not surprising to discover that in
2003 the National Defense Research Institute of the RAND Corporation
produced a book-length study designed to "help the services"
recruit in the college market. In the introduction to the book,
researchers explain that military recruiters "have already
tapped" the "traditional market," i.e., high school,
especially with regard to students with a high propensity to enlist.
The "college-bound market," however, "has barely
been penetrated." While not suggesting that recruiters abandon
the high schools, the study recommends a mixed approach with recruiting
aimed at both sites and perhaps a division of labor among the
services. Marine recruiters, for example, might continue to focus
on high school students given that the Marine Corps is the "youngest"
branch -- the average age of active duty Marines is lower than
that of members of other branches.
The report goes on to outline a number of strategies for recruiters
based on the conclusion that "the greatest enlistment potential
exists among two-year students and two-year dropouts." One
proposed strategy is to offer incentives to recruiters who demonstrate
success in the college market. Another is to establish loan repayment
programs (LRP) modeled after the Army's "College First"
The "College First" program provides a number of features
designed to attract college-bound students: 1) the possibility
of enlistment bonuses of $6,000, 2) a monthly stipend of between
$250 and $350, 3) entry into the military at a higher rank after
completion of college coursework, and 4) the possibility of repayment
of up to $65,000 in federal college loans.
As is the case with many recruiters' promises made to young people,
the devil here is in the details. According to the FY2000 Army
analysis of usage rates for the LRP, recipients used only 25%
or $16,000 of the potential $65,000. Although the Pentagon is
not making money from recruits as it does with the monthly $100
"education" deduction taken from the paychecks of all
first-year GIs, the Army LRP used at current rates is still cheaper
than up-front bonuses. RAND researchers warn Pentagon planners
that should LRP participants begin to use up to 75% or more of
the maximum loan repayments, the program would cease to be cost
The so-called Advanced Promotion for Education program would
allow recruits with some college credit to enter the military
at a higher pay grade. Using the Department of Defense pay scale
for 2002, however, researchers found that someone entering as
an E-3 instead of E-1 would make slightly over $200 a month more,
but by the end of her first year of service would make the same
as the person who had entered at the lower rank.
Because most young people in the United States understand that
a high school diploma grants limited earning power in today's
job market, many that have been locked out of four-year schools
by rising costs, artificially stringent admissions criteria, and
a broken K-12 system will enroll in community colleges. These
working-class youth who became accustomed to seeing military recruiters
during their high school years will not be surprised to learn
that the recruiters have followed them to college.
At some two-year colleges such as Seattle Central, student activists
have reacted to the increased military presence. Just north of
Seattle at Everett Community College, the student newspaper reported
that recruiters' visits have increased, and recruiters are often
seen eating lunch with students and in some cases using aggressive
tactics. In New York, local counter-recruitment activists are
educating students at Bronx Community College about the fine print
that recruiters fail to mention.
At San Diego City College in California, where recruiters regularly
tell students, "You're not going anywhere here. This is a
dead end," a Latino-led student group is organizing to limit
recruiter access to their campus. Students took similar actions
at Santa Monica College near Los Angeles where minority students
make up more than 63% of the population and recruiters roam freely
throughout the day.
Across the country, community college students are moving to
demilitarize their educational environment. Counter-recruitment
activists who often present "college" as an alternative
to military service will have to rethink their strategies given
that "college" no longer insulates working-class youth
against stepped-up recruitment campaigns. The return of the draft
may be a ways off, but the unjust reality of economic conscription
is already taking a heavy toll on young people with limited opportunities
who are struggling to get a college education.
Information sources: Beth J. Asch and M. Rebecca Kilburn,
eds., Recruiting Youth in the College Market: Current Practices
and Future Policy Options (RAND, 2003); Steffany Bell, "Military
Recruiters on Campus," The Clipper [Everett Community
College], Feb. 15, 2005; Kim Calvert, "Armed Forces dip into
college pool," Santa Monica Daily Press, Feb. 19-20,
2005; America's Military Population, David R. Segal.
This article is from Draft NOtices, the newsletter
of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (http://www.comdsd.org)