However, the military has also managed to attract an undeniably more qualified core of recruits. The number of Army recruits with a high school degree was up 11 percentage points from last year. Across the services, 96 percent of recruits had a high school diploma, the strongest percentage since 1996. Additionally, the services saw the best showing on their math and verbal aptitude test since 2004 with 73 percent of recruits scoring above average.
For the US military, high unemployment rates have always meant a good thing for recruiting, says Lindsay Cohn, a political science professor who specializes in military personnel issues at the University of Northern Iowa. As far back as the Civil War, people have been turning to the military when the job market goes south.
"All kinds of people are losing their jobs, and all kinds of people of different levels of education and different levels of experience are going to look to the military to support their family," she says. "So you also get a quality spike when [an economic crisis] happens."
THAT QUALITY SPIKE IS NOTICEABLE, says Sgt. Greg Grayson, commander at the downtown Boston Army recruitment office where a jovial crew of soldiers in camouflage and several life-size cutouts of smiling soldiers greet visitors. "There has definitely been an increase in degree-credentialed applicants," he says. "They're done with school and the job market is not what they thought it was going to be."
Grayson says that since July his office has signed on an average of two candidates with bachelor's degrees each month – six in October. That compares with just two every three months a year ago. The office's total recruitment per month runs between nine and 12.