WASHINGTON – The richest and poorest high schools in Maryland send relatively few students on to the military after graduation, according to an analysis of state Department of Education data.
In 2003 and 2004 combined, an average of 2.9 percent of graduating Maryland high school seniors entered the military, the data showed.
But when schools are ranked by the portion of students receiving free or reduced meals — a common measure of the relative wealth of a school — the data showed the poorest schools sent just 1.2 percent of graduates to the military while the richest schools sent 2.3 percent.
“There has been a perception that the American military is manned by the American underclass” but that perception is untrue, said David R. Segal, a professor of sociology and director of the Center for Research on Military Organization.
The University of Maryland professor said the state’s situation mirrors what he has seen nationwide in his research on 25 years of military enlistments.
“In general, an all-volunteer force has underrepresented the bottom and the top 25 percent” of the economic spectrum, Segal said.
A spokesman for the U.S. Army Recruiting Command in Fort Knox, Ky., agreed that the Army is “extremely underrepresented on the extremely low end of the scale, and slightly underrepresented in the extremely high end,” of family income.
“In the extreme high end, people have a world of opportunities to choose from. They are not motivated by our economic incentives,” said Douglas Smith, the Army spokesman.
Twenty of the 203 Maryland high schools and high school programs included in the state’s data sent no graduates on to the military in 2004. One of those was Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, which also had a very low percentage of students receiving free and reduced meals, just 8.7 percent of students.
The low enlistment rate for B-CC grades “doesn’t surprise me,” said Principal Sean Bulson, who said he has seen fewer recruiters spending time at his school in the past two years.
“The large majority of our students have grown up just knowing that college is where they’re headed,” Bulson said.
Great Mills High School in St. Mary’s County sent more students, and a bigger proportion of its graduating class on to the military than most other schools in Maryland in 2004. Twenty-three of its 290 seniors, or 7.9 percent of its Class of 2004, entered the military last year.
Great Mills had 406 students enrolled in the free and reduced-price lunch program last year, or 26.2 percent of the overall student body — a level that puts it right in the middle of schools statewide.
Neither Great Mills nor St. Mary’s County school system officials could be reached to comment on the trend.
Overall, the number of students entering the military from Maryland has decreased more than 14 percent from 2002 to 2004, even though the number of graduating students increased by more than 5 percent. The number enlisting fell from 1,558 students in 2002 to 1,492 in 2003 and 1,335 last year.
“Recruiting has been difficult this year,” said Smith, noting that the Army has failed to meet year-to-date enlistment goals for both the active-duty and reserve forces so far.
Segal said there has been a decline in the attitudes of young people toward entering the military since the mid-80s. He said it is because more students are opting for college after high school. Since the all-volunteer military was designed to compete against the workforce, recruiters have a harder time convincing students to choose the armed forces over college.
Smith echoed that sentiment, saying that with high school students increasingly drawn to college it is harder to recruit in high schools, even with the military’s financial incentives.
Those incentives are little incentive to students at the richest schools, who tend to take themselves out of the path toward military service.
Students at the poorest schools, by contrast, are often “screened out” because of factors like poor performance on military standardized tests, health problems or the presence of a criminal record, all of which are more likely to be present in a poor community, Segal said.
-30- CNS 04-29-05