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NEWS | June 4, 2009

Good economy, bad economy: education still ranks first for AF recruits

By Staff Sgt. Daniel Bowles 437th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

2008 was the first year since 2004 all active-duty branches of the military met or exceeded their recruiting goals and they are on their way to continuing the trend, having achieved the same results in the first six months of fiscal year 2009.

For the Air Force, excellent recruiting isn't the most recent of success stories. In fact, for the past nine years, the Air Force has consistently met its recruiting goals, said Daniel Elkins, a spokesperson for Air Force Recruiting Service, Randolph AFB, Texas.

The success of Air Force recruiting is no mystery. The answer comes straight from surveyed recruits in basic military training at Lackland AFB, Texas.

The number one reason for enlistment in 2008 among trainees at Lackland was educational assistance. Along with it, the other top three surveyed responses were extended travel, personal independence and patriotism.

With active-duty recruitment steady for nearly a decade in the Air Force, word of its stability has spread to at least a few civilian's ears who are feeling the recession in their wallets.

"There have been some reports of an increase in walk-in traffic and reports of non-prior service [recruits] with slightly higher qualifications than usual," Mr. Elkins said. "Historically, six months into a downturn in the economy, we begin to see more interest."

Exact numbers are incalculable, he said, but despite the statistic of 66 percent of Air Force recruiting goals being met in the first quarter of fiscal year 2009, recruitments are at normal levels for this time of year.

Aside from enlisted recruiting, a career presenting ample educational opportunities, even in the lagging economy, is the field of commissioned health care.
Air Force scholarships for medical degrees range from reimbursements paying portions of tuition, to a "full ride" at a school of the applicant's choosing, provided it meets Air Force standards. Students complete their schooling and go on to become commissioned officers in the Air Force.

Mirroring the increased interest in enlistment, health care recruiting has recently seen an increase in applications for Air Force health care scholarships.

Beginning in late-2008, the 360th Recruiting Group's health professions flight in Raleigh, N.C., which serves as a hub for recruits from around the Carolinas, filled the amount of applications in the first quarter of fiscal year 2009 normally completed in the second to third quarters.

Also, the average Medical College Admission Test scores among recruits increased, indicating a higher qualified applicant pool, said Master Sgt. Mike Anthony, recruiting flight supervisor with the 360 RCG.

An explanation for the influx, said Sergeant Anthony, is in the current economy.

At the University of South Carolina's school of medicine, the average indebtedness for graduates of four-year education programs is $125,000, said Donald Kenney, Ph.D, director of student and career services for USC, Columbia.

The financing needed to attend medical schools may come at a higher price in some cases from loan institutions once perceived as unshakeable now sitting atop shifting soil in the financial upheaval, Sergeant Anthony said.

In addition, some financial solutions only come two years at a time for aspiring doctors in four-year degree programs. Many are surprised to find they are not able to get the same loan terms they were offered just two years prior, he said.

"Student indebtedness is going up," Dr. Kenney said. "I think the economy and student indebtedness increases the number of people who want to look at this as a way of paying for medical school."

He advises students that military service can be a sacrifice, but the expert of 15 years in his position regularly invites recruiters to talk with first-year students on military benefits at the beginning and middle of each school year.

As a respectable career path in hard economic times or otherwise, the Air Force provides the means for many recruits to advance their educational pursuits.

A recession lingers and overall recruiting numbers are up, but for Air Force recruits across the U.S., the abounding educational opportunities available continue to be the mainstay for those answering the call each year to serve as Airmen.