In an unprecedented move, the U.S. Navy has begun enlisting individuals without high school diplomas or GEDs, marking a significant shift in its recruitment strategy.
This change comes as the Navy struggles to meet its enlistment goals and follows a December 2022 initiative to accept more recruits with low scores on the Armed Services Qualification Test.
US Navy lowers educational requirements for recruits
This new direction allows individuals who score 50 or above on the qualification test out of a possible 99 to join the Navy.
The last time the service enlisted individuals without education credentials was over two decades ago, in 2000. Vice Adm. Rick Cheeseman, the Navy’s personnel chief, explained the rationale behind this decision.
“We get thousands of people into our recruiting stations every year that want to join the Navy but do not have an education credential. And we just turn them away,” he said.
Cheeseman estimates that out of the 2,400 rejected last year due to lack of credentials, up to 500 could have qualified under the new criteria.
Covid19 pandemic’s impact on military recruitment
The COVID-19 pandemic significantly hampered the military’s recruitment efforts.
Traditional recruitment platforms like high schools and public events were inaccessible, leading to a drop in enlistments.
The military also faced stiff competition from the private sector, offering similar benefits like college funding.
These challenges, combined with the political climate and concerns about war, have made military service less appealing to younger generations.
Navy aims high in recruitment amidst broader military enrollment challenges
The recruitment struggles are not unique to the Navy. Last fiscal year, the Army and Air Force failed to meet their recruitment targets, with only the Marine Corps and Space Force achieving their goals.
For the current year, Cheeseman has set an ambitious target of 40,600 recruits for a Navy sized at 337,800 members.
“I need these sailors. So it’s a stretch goal,” he said, acknowledging the ambitious nature of this target.
Navy’s unique approach to category four recruits
Unlike other services, the Navy is the only branch that enlists “category four” recruits who score 30 or less on the qualification test.
This approach is justified by the belief that certain roles, like cooks or boatswain mates, don’t require high overall test scores.
The Army, in contrast, offers a Future Soldier Prep Course for low-scoring candidates, requiring them to improve their scores to enlist.
Education requirements across military branches
Other military branches maintain stricter educational requirements.
The Army and Marine Corps mandate a high school diploma or GED, while the Air Force requires a qualification test score of 65 or higher for those without a diploma.
The Air Force enlisted only a small fraction of recruits without a diploma last year.
Navy tackles concerns with lower-scoring recruits in new enlistment approach
Some concerns persist that lower-performing recruits might struggle more in boot camp or present disciplinary issues.
However, Cheeseman notes that the failure rate in boot camp for low-scoring recruits hasn’t been significantly higher than that of their higher-scoring counterparts.
“We just finally decided, okay, let’s go,” he said, expressing a willingness to take risks to expand the pool of potential sailors and fill boot camp capacities.
Navy adapts recruitment standards to address challenges, expand talent pool
As the Navy navigates these recruitment challenges, its adjusted approach to enlistment criteria represents a broader effort to tap into an underutilized talent pool.
With the release of these new standards, the Navy hopes to bolster its ranks and adapt to the evolving landscape of military recruitment.