Loyola’s Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program, and similar programs at colleges around the country, are likely to see fewer scholarship recipients in coming years as the federal government slashes military funding and ends armed conflicts overseas.
But experts predict the caliber of students securing free tuition through ROTC programs will probably improve.
“Now, we’re going to be able to be more selective. In theory, the quality of the individual will be higher, on average,” said Major Thomas Burrell, assistant professor of military science for Army ROTC in Chicago who is also in charge of the ROTC program at Loyola.
According to Burrell, this could mean that many of these individuals may now exceed the general ROTC recruiting standards, which include three main characteristics: scholarship, athleticism and leadership.
Currently, 34 Loyola students are in the school’s ROTC program, which trains college students to become commissioned officers in the U.S. Army after graduation.
Similar programs exist for the Navy and Air Force and all programs offer scholarships to participants.
The Obama administration plans to reduce the number of people in the military in coming years as the Afghan conflict winds down.
Overall, more than $10 billion will be cut over the next 10 years, according to a White House report.
“The Army has taken the overall end strength down by about 80,000 soldiers,” Burrell said. “That gets felt down proportionately throughout the Army.”
This not only translates into fewer enlisted military members but fewer officers, some of whom are trained at military academies and special boot camp programs, and some of whom are commissioned through ROTC programs at colleges across the nation, including at Loyola.
“We are seeing increases in the requirements for [students] to get on active duty as people are leaving school,” said Major Fred Hockett, assistant professor of military science of Chicago’s Fire Battalion.
The Fire Battalion, headquartered at UIC, is the Army ROTC program for Chicagoland and northwest Indiana, which includes ROTC programs at Loyola, DePaul University and Northwestern University.
Hockett said that although the general standards for joining the program have not changed since he’s joined three years ago, cadets’ personal accomplishments have been increasing.
“We’re also seeing a general increase in the GPAs for students who are in the [ROTC] program,” Hockett said.
An Associated Press article, published in May of this year, found an increase in military recruiting standards, among them; not accepting recruits with “misconduct convictions or drug or alcohol issues,” and stricter standards for active duty soldiers in order to continue tours in uniform.
Mason Walker, 21, a student ROTC recruiting officer for Chicago, said he is also noticing the effects of the military changes on the ROTC program.
“I think right now with downsizing on the war and everything…we’re starting to see [that] recruiting is probably going to become more stringent,” said the Loyola senior, a political science and creative writing major.
Burrell and Walker said the ROTC program at Loyola aims to gain 10-15 new recruits each year. This year, the program has three.
Military budget cuts may also be a factor in higher selectivity among these new recruits, since there may be fewer scholarships to go around.
All ROTC members sign a contract junior year committing to a minimum of four years active military duty followed by another four years in the reserves upon graduating the course, according to Burrell.
A 394-page White House report, released in September, detailed cuts in military and domestic spending totaling $100 billion. Part of those cuts, scheduled to begin January, include reducing Army operations and maintenance by $7 billion next year, and the Navy by more than $4 billion.
Despite these cuts, Burrell said he is not worried about finding money for good applicants.
“When there are budget cuts in the Army, they are felt across the Army,” he said. “Will I lose some scholarship money? Probably, but the good thing about the Army is … that if we find the right person, we can usually find a way to pay for a scholarship [through donations].”
According to Burrell, 90 percent of students see ROTC’s financial aid as a top reason to join the program, but he doesn’t think the decrease in scholarships will deter student interest, since students also have other reasons for joining.
“They think it’s an honorable profession, something that they feel good about themselves for [and] it’s a guaranteed job when you graduate, provided you make it all the way through the program,” Burrell said.
“What I find is that it’s never any one of those [reasons for joining], it’s usually all of those,” Burrell said.
He estimated that there are currently about 30 active-duty ROTC alumni from Loyola.
Walker agreed, saying that although most recruits at Loyola are on a scholarship, that is not “where the retention lies,” and most applicants who stick with the program think about more than just their scholarships.
Walker’s own case was no different. Part of a nine-generation military family, Walker said he’d known all his life he was going to join ROTC in college.
However, financial aid was still important so he applied for and received a four-year national scholarship.
The Army ROTC offers four-, three- and two-year full scholarships for prospective members. Students are required to meet a minimum GPA requirement of 2.50, meet physical standards and agree to serve in the Army full time for four years after graduation, according to the organization’s website.
“[ROTC is] kind of one of those things where unless you’re not truly invested in it and what it stands for and everything, you’re not going to see a lot of people stay in the program,” Walker said, “because it takes a lot to keep a scholarship.”
by Tahera Rahman