The Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) is a military program offered at approximately 3400 high schools around the country.1 Its proponents consider it a “character development and citizenship program for youth”2, and it’s often marketed as “leadership training.” Some of the subjects studied within JROTC include “lessons in leadership, health and wellness, physical fitness, first-aid, geography, American history and government, communications, and emotional intelligence.”3 Courses can also include lessons in drill training4 and marksmanship5.




Although supposedly not a recruitment program, military authorities have pointed out its success in boosting enlistment rates.6 The National Defense Act of 1920 was the first to make provisions for JROTC, its goal: “to raise awareness of military service and to encourage college-bound students to pursue a commission through ROTC.”7 Given that most high school students wouldn’t be attending college, the program aimed to “engender interest in military service at the enlistee level.”8 More recently, in the year 2000, the Chief of Staff at the Air Force, General Michael E. Ryan, made it apparent that the link between enlistment and JROTC participation has not gone unnoticed; he told a congressional committee that: “almost 50 percent of the folks that go … out of the Air Force Junior ROTC go into one of the services by enlisting or going to ROTC or going to one of the academies.”9

Despite being a century old, remarkably few longitudinal studies have been conducted on the effects JROTC has on enlistment, academic achievement, and other markers which the program purports to influence—a fact that has been noted by several researchers.10 11 12 13 The few studies that have been conducted suggest that the program is effective in increasing students’ (particularly female participants’) self-esteem.14 However, these studies also point toward negligible returns in academics and higher enlistment rates.15 16 The latter could be explained by the fact that students who enter the program may already be interested in pursuing a future military career. As Pema et al. point out, “…the larger enlistment effect obtained from fixed effects may be explained by program administrators selecting schools with higher enlistment propensities.”17 Given that most JROTC programs are located in predominantly poor, rural areas with a higher density of youth of color18, this is part of a trend displayed by the military’s recruitment strategy in which military benefits are posited as the only way out of poverty. This is reflected in the disproportionate amount of African Americanpeople enlisted in the military compared to their presence in the US population.19

One problem with this lies in the risks that a military career brings to young enlistees. A military career is wholly different from that of other types of careers, and young people need to be properly briefed about its dangers in order to truly make an informed decision. Because the military needs to constantly meet enlistment quotas driven by the various armed conflicts in which the US plays a part, information coming from either JROTC instructors, recruiters, and other military members frequently in contact with young people can be biased in order to encourage young people to enlist.

This, coupled the low academic benefits of the JROTC program, as well as its negligible effects on employment for non-military careers, beg the question: if the benefits of this program are higher self-esteem, leadership training, and belonging to a group of like-minded individuals, couldn’t these same benefits be reaped from other vocational programs?







  1. https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR1712.html (2017)
  2. http://www.usarmyjrotc.com/general/program_overview.php
  3. Idem
  4. http://www.militaryspot.com/resources/understanding-the-history-and-benefits-of-jrotc
  5. https://thecmp.org/youth/jrotc-air-rifle-national-championship/national-championship-history/
  6. Gross, W. (2017). THE ARMY RESERVE OFFICERS’ TRAINING CORPS: A Hundred Years Old and Still Going Strong. On Point, 23(2), 6-13. doi:10.2307/26478334
  7. Idem
  8. Idem
  9. https://www.startribune.com/junior-rotc-not-military-recruitment-but-quite-like-it/402778056/?refresh=true
  10. Idem
  11. Elda Pema, Stephen Mehay, Career effects of occupation-related vocational education: Evidence from the military's internal labor market, Economics of Education Review, Volume 31, Issue 5, 2012, Pages 680-693, ISSN 0272-7757, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.econedurev.2012.04.005.
  12. Lutz, Catherine, and Lesley Bartlett. 1995. Making soldiers in the public schools. Philadelphia, PA: American Friends Service Committee.
  13. Economic Journal, 76(2), 533-552. Retrieved May 14, 2020, from www.jstor.org/stable/27751481
  14. Pérez, G. (2015). Citizen, Student, Soldier: Latina/o Youth, JROTC, and the American Dream. NYU Press. Retrieved May 14, 2020, from www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt15zc6z2
  15. Lutz, Catherine, and Lesley Bartlett. 1995. Making soldiers in the public schools. Philadelphia, PA: American Friends Service Committee.
  16. Pema, E., & Mehay, S. (2009). The Effect of High School JROTC on Student Achievement, Educational Attainment, and Enlistment. Southern Economic Journal, 76(2), 533-552. Retrieved May 14, 2020, from www.jstor.org/stable/27751481
  17. Idem
  18. Idem
  19. https://www.cfr.org/article/demographics-us-military

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Revised 10/11/2020