USC’s Reserve Officer Training Corps programs have seen a dramatic jump in enrollment this fall, a rise that some attribute to the stalled economy.
According to James Wise, the enrollment and scholarship officer for the USC Army ROTC, the freshmen Army ROTC class has more than doubled compared to last year.
The other branches of the ROTC — Naval and Air Force — have also noticed a similar jump. Lt. Scott Carr of the Naval ROTC said that program has seen an increase in the number of students who join the ROTC after coming to USC. Carr said there has been about a 25 to 35 percent increase among those students.
The state of the economy has some believing that finances may be the reason for the number of applicants.
“I’m sure a lot of it is because of the economy,” Carr said. “And USC is an expensive school.”
There can be immediate financial benefits to joining ROTC, as both the Army and Navy program offer full-tuition scholarships. Still, Carr said the scholarships are only added incentive for individuals already interested in joining the military, and that scholarships alone would drive students to join ROTC.
“Students who have a desire to serve their country find the NROTC scholarship very attractive,” Carr said. “It provides a means to completing a degree and the opportunity to serve as a commissioned officer in the United States Navy or Marine Corps.”
There are also long-term benefits to membership in the program. Students who graduate from college and complete an ROTC program are able to start off at a management level, or an officer in some cases, when they enter the military.
Because of the guaranteed job placement, it is typical for ROTC enrollment numbers to go up when the economy is in a rut, according to Michael Keane, an assistant professor of clinical finance at the Marshall School of Business.
“It’s not unusual to find that in a recession, people will find job opportunities in the military to be more attractive,” Keane said.
But Commanding Officer Robert Huntley, a professor for Army ROTC, said there are other possible reasons for the increase in the number of applicants.
“There’s a lot more recognition about the military … People are looking to serve the government and one of the ways is to join the military,” Huntley said,
Kevin Rohrberg, a junior majoring in history and political science, joined the Air Force ROTC his freshman year.
He said the economy might be the reason there’s been an increase in the number of students in the ROTC.
“One cool thing the ROTC has is that you have a guaranteed job [after graduating],” Rohrberg said. “It’s a great job security and it’s good pay.”
Rohrberg also has a partial scholarship from the Air Force ROTC to help him pay for tuition. But neither the economy nor the extra money was the primary reason he joined.
“It’s always been my dream to serve the country,” said Rohrberg. “It wasn’t the main reason. I mean, it obviously helps but it wasn’t my defining factor for joining.”
Whatever the reason for the increase in applicants, the higher level of interest has given USC’s ROTC program a chance to be more selective.
Though Wise said the program is currently able to accept as many or as few students as it wants, the larger pool of applicants gives it more freedom to pick and choose.
“We have a leeway to be more selective in what we’re looking for and who we want to be a part of our program,” Wise said.
Despite the economy, the Naval ROTC and Army ROTC have yet to experience any serious budget cuts for scholarships.
“We’ve been asked to continue to remain fiscally responsible and to look for ways to continue to improve our systems,” said Carr. “But we haven’t seen any scholarship cutbacks.”
Wise said the Army ROTC scholarship program has also remained consistent. Currently, students can be awarded full-tuition scholarships when they enter the Army ROTC.
The Army ROTC program is not currently very competitive, Wise said, but it has been in the past and could be again.
“We’ve had a scholarship program that’s been effective,” said Wise. “But I think that in the next three or five years, you’re going to see that full-tuition scholarship money become more competitive.”