BARSTOW, Calif. — A change of policy means students who dodged four years of service at a traditional high school will not have a harder time serving a tour of duty in the nation’s armed forces.
The rule change, which was included in a federal law passed earlier this year, comes as the military says it does not detect measurable differences in the attrition rates of recruits from nontraditional high schools, according to a statement from the Department of Defense. The military is just now beginning to implement the new requirements.
The change will allow applicants from home schools, virtual or distance learning schools and adult or alternative schools to receive Tier 1 enlistment priority if they score 50 or above on the Armed Forces Qualification Test, a test that evaluates their vocational skills and is used to determine job placement within the military. In the past, students that did not attend a traditional school would often by placed in Tier 2, making it more difficult for them to gain a spot.
The change reflects a growing shift of K-12 students to nontraditional school settings. Over 2 million children were homeschooled in the United States in 2010, up 140 percent from 850,000 in 1999, according to a study by the National Home Education Research Institute. A study by a group called Keeping Pace 2010 found that 150,000 K-12 students went to school online full-time in the 2009-10 school year.
When those students seek to enter the military, they face a tiered classification system that the military uses separate versions of for both academic institutions and recruits, said Education Service Specialist Willie Oliver Jr. of the U.S. Army Recruiting Battalion of Southern California. Soldiers in Tier 2 receive lower preference when competing for preferred assignments in the armed forces. (An even lower tier, Tier 3, is reserved for recruits that lack a high school diploma.)
The key is scoring above 50 on the AFQT, Oliver said, which makes it more likely that a recruit will receive his first choice of positions in the military.
Oliver, who oversees recruiters in San Diego, Riverside, Orange and San Bernardino counties, said that the military is still on the lookout for dubious academic credentials. Part of his job is to evaluate unseemly-sounding schools and to look carefully when a new recruit’s academic transcript shows impossibly high numbers of academic units earned in a short time period, which could be a sign the recruit attended a so-called diploma mill.
Soldiers given a Tier 1 designation are viewed as more likely to complete their term of enlistment, so some parts of the military require a minimum of 90 percent of new recruits to be classified as Tier 1. But the military says that students from nontraditional schools who meet the minimum score on the qualification test are not more likely to leave the armed forces than other students.
Despite the loosening standards, the most desirable positions within the military remain competitive.
The increased demand for positions in the military means that most soldiers do not enter the military until eight or nine months after their first meeting with a recruiter, Lernes Herber, acting director of accession policy, said in a statement.
Oliver said he hasn’t noticed more nontraditional students enlisting in the military than in the past, but the struggling economy was pushing more individuals to consider a career in the armed forces. That didn’t necessarily mean individuals would be turned away from the military, but competition for preferred positions was tougher than in the past, Oliver said.
“You have to come up with some form of criteria to pick this group over this group,” Oliver said.