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Intern Blog: Military Colleges Make the Grade on General Education

August 10, 2017

American military colleges produce disciplined leaders that are prepared for national service in one of the four American service branches. Often these institutions are extremely selective and require letters of high recommendation as part of their admissions standards. From the esteemed national service academies like West Point and the Air Force Academy to senior military colleges like The Citadel and the Virginia Military Institute, these military schools dedicate themselves to producing officers trained in military strategy and tactics, but who are also well-versed in fields of study ranging from math and science to literature, civics and history. Today, when many employers are concerned that college graduates are unfit for the workforce, the men and women graduating from military colleges prove themselves to be exceptional new hires.

Interestingly, America’s military colleges also prove to be some of the most stalwart examples of a well-rounded liberal arts education. The top military schools provide students with a comprehensive core curriculum, which is increasingly rare in higher education today. The American Council of Trustees and Alumni’s What Will They Learn?™ (WWTL) project has chronicled the unfortunate erosion of curricular requirements in American universities by assigning grades to schools based on how many core subjects they require. Eighty percent of the supposed top 20 national universities according to the U.S. News & World Report earned a “C” or below in 2016 from WWTL; too many of the nation’s most reputable universities fail to give their students the well-rounded education that they claim to provide. On the other hand, the majority of the senior military colleges require their students to study at least four of the seven core subjects, earning “B’s” from WWTL. Four of the five military academies received an “A,” which was only achieved by 25 of the 1,100 institutions in the report.

Can it really be true that the academy’s tasked with training America’s fighting men and women are also bastions of the liberal arts? The answer is yes. Military academies pride themselves on consistently ranking nationally as superior engineering schools. Why do these top STEM schools also require their students to study Plato and Shakespeare? West Point articulates that a college education must “teach cadets how to think,” if cadets are to be well-prepared to become officers and eventually participate in the civilian workforce and civic duties—and that requires a thorough liberal arts education. A student with complementary knowledge and skills from a wide variety of subjects will simply gain more out of their courses. They will be able to apply historical knowledge to scientific developments and analytical writing skills to engineering courseIn addition to receiving an excellent liberal arts education funded by the government, students also undergo military leadership training and are guaranteed placement as an officer upon graduation. Their days are strictly regimented with rigorous physical training followed by long hours of studying in the evening. Participation in ROTC programs at civilian universities gives students the opportunity to live alongside average students while still being immersed in military training.

Graduates of military schools are duty-bound to serve a minimum of five years of active duty in their respective service branch and can then either enter the civilian workforce or continue their military career. These institutions have been pathways to opportunity for countless Americans—many from humble origins—who have served their country and gone on to lead in a variety of industries. Notable alumni from West Point and the Naval Academy include presidents Ulysses S. Grant, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Jimmy Carter, as well as famous military leaders like Douglas MacArthur, Chester Nimitz, George Patton, and John Pershing. It is no coincidence that alumni from these schools are well-equipped to lead in both military and civilian careers: They were all trained in the liberal arts while simultaneously cultivating the discipline necessary to apply this education to their future goals.

Today, military colleges and ROTC programs continue to uphold the tradition of quality education compared to the majority of universities across the country. Year in and year out, these students graduate with a comprehensive grasp of literature, foreign language, economics, and history as well as STEM subjects. It is time America rethinks how they approach educating college students. If more universities implement stronger core curricula, we might once again see America’s higher education outcomes rising to the front of the pack, rather than falling behind.

Every summer, ACTA is privileged to have several interns conduct research for the What Will They Learn?™ project. This is the fifth in a series of guest blogs written by our interns, who chose topics relevant to higher education. Adam is a rising sophomore at The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina where is he is a double major in German and political science.


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