Army rejects 23% of high school grads

Today’s Army won’t take all high school graduates: 23 percent of would-be enlistees flunk the academic test, reports Education Trust in “Shut Out of the Military.”

. . . 29 percent of Hispanic Army applicants and 39 percent of African Americans were found ineligible. Furthermore, when minority candidates did gain entry into the armed services, they achieved lower scores on average than their white peers. These ratings exclude them from higher level educational, training, and advancement opportunities provided by the Army.

Qualifying rates varied widely for white applicants with 27 percent of Maryland’s white high school graduates failing the test compared to 10 percent in Indiana.

Questions cover basic skills and knowledge, such as:

“If 2 plus x equals 4, what is the value of x?”

Seventy-five percent of 17- to 24-year-olds don’t qualify to take the test because they did not complete high school, are physically unfit or have a criminal record, the Pentagon reports. Ninety percent of Army enlistees are high school graduates or non-graduates who’ve earned at least 15 college credits; the other 10 percent include GED holders who score 50 or better on the Armed Forces Qualifying Test. The Army is exceeding its recruiting goal (slightly), the Pentagon reports.

About Joanne


  1. 23% of would-be recruits are not 23% of high school grads.

    As the army entrusts its recruits with weapons and such, it’s important that the recruits be trainable.

    There are a certain percentage of students in any country who are not trainable. I’d wager that the lowest 23% of the armed forces recruiting pool would also have trouble with high school exit exams. One might question the standards for high school diplomas. That doesn’t mean that raising the standards for high school diplomas will increase the number of well-qualified graduates. It’s likely you’d end up with fewer graduates.

    The differences by state in average candidate scores could well reflect the local economic conditions, and the demand for high school graduates’ labor. That is, if Massachusetts’ candidate pool did poorly in comparison, does that mean that the overall high school pool is poorly educated, or that there are more opportunities for high school graduates in Massachusetts than in Idaho, Indiana, Nebraska, and Wyoming?

  2. Well, the Army and other services offer a Pre-AVSB test (or whatever it’s called) to high school juniors and seniors at many schools. I believe that many of the stats are derived from this test. It’s offered for free as both an introduction to the military and as a recruiting tool. Now, I’m sure that many schools have turned them down for ideological reasoning but the test pool for these statistics may be broader than you imagined.

    Your overall comment about knowing the testing pool is absolutely correct. However, after 30 years in the military and 15 years in public education, I don’t think it’s that far off the mark. And I was enlisted, an NCO and finally a commissioned officer in both the Reserves and on Active Duty.

  3. The test pool for the stats were potential recruits, not a larger group of high school students: Our sample consists of the nearly 350,000 high school graduates aged 17-20 who applied for entry into the Army between 2004 and 2009 and took the ASVAB at a Military Entrance Processing Station.5 These young people are among the 25 percent of young Americans who do not have problems preventing them from applying for enlist- ment in the military. Approximately 50 percent of these applicants, a total of 172,776, joined the Army.

    Footnote 5 is also interesting:

    In 2010, the U.S. Army provided The Education Trust with the results of all those individuals who took the test with the intent of enlisting in a component of the Army. The study sample in this brief are 348,203 individuals, aged 17-20, with a high school diploma who took the ASVAB between 2004 and 2009. It is a subset of the 1,413,224 individuals, including those with a wider age range and varying educational levels, who took the ASVAB for enlistment in the Army during that period and of the 683,790 of those individuals, again with a wider age range, whose highest educational credential was a high school diploma. Of those sur- veyed, 34 percent were 19 years of age at the time, 29 percent were 18, 26 percent were 20, and 11 percent were 17 years old.

    I think the debate resembles the debate over vocational training. In some people’s minds, the trades and the military are suitable places to send less capable students. In reality, however, the demands in the trades and the military have changed with technology. We use machines to do many tasks which once needed a guy with a strong back and a shovel.

    If you make a mistake with a word processor, you must type everything again. If you make a mistake maintaining an airplane or planning an artillery barrage, people die.

  4. This represents a small sample of the population – as 75% of applicants don’t even pass basic physical requirements or have a GED or don’t have a record.

  5. Richard Aubrey says:

    I once was in the laborers’ union local. Looked at posters advertising various schools. All involved machinery. Generators, compressors, air hammers, various others. Drop your attention for one second and it will bite you.

    Also seems the free world is depending on an exceedingly small cohort of Americans for its defense.

  6. My youngest is currently home from Army after basic training. She’s waiting for her training assignment after dropping OCS, she likes the army but decided she didn’t want to be an officer.
    She scored a perfect score on the ASVAB. She commented on this story. The ASVAB is a percentage score. The cut off is 35, therefore yes one third will not be qualified by the test.
    Also most people who walk into the recruiter’s office are rejected. Too fat, not fit enough, too dumb, criminal record, etc.

  7. When you are working with complex machinery, weapons, electricity, fire, chemicals, and so forth, I’m always reminded of the interaction between Nicholas Cage and Sean Connery in The Rock:

    Mason, the moment you don’t respect this (referring to the VX Nerve Gas), it kills you.

    The fact that approximately one-third of the persons taking the ASVAB can’t qualify at the minimum score required for persons holding a high school diploma (31) shouldn’t surprise anyone, given that one-third of all college freshmen nationally require at least one or more remedial courses.

    The ASVAB results coupled with the fact that 3/4ths of the draft age population of the United States are not eligible to serve in the event of a draft call due to obesity, lack of education, or disqualifying criminal background is a very ominous sign indeed (but in all fairness, the military doesn’t want recruits who can’t pass muster either physically or mentally, they don’t have the time to waste on them).