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Should the U.S. Military Recruit on High School Campuses?

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For most of U.S. history, the military has relied on conscription (a.k.a, the draft) every time there has been a major war. But after massive youth protests during the Vietnam War in the 1970s, the draft was ended. Since then, the U.S. armed forces have had to rely on marketing to entice young people to choose the military after high school. Fast forward to today, and Gen Z isn’t buying. Military recruitment numbers are at the lowest they’ve been in 50 years. There are plenty of reasons for the drop along with plenty of ways the military is trying to boost its numbers, including setting up recruiting centers in high schools and continuing to fund JROTC, a school-based, military-style leadership program. Now we want you to evaluate the evidence, then join the discussion: Should the U.S. military recruit on high school campuses?

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Why Is the U.S. military facing a recruitment crisis?

All branches of the U.S. military except for the Marine Corps failed to meet their recruiting goals for new soldiers in 2022, with the Army having the biggest shortfall (they missed their target by 15,000 – or 25% of their goal) – and so far nobody is predicting any better results in 2023. This is reported to be the worst recruiting crisis since 1973, the height of the Vietnam War. More than 20% of people between the ages of 18 – 25 failed to meet eligibility requirements, and only 9% of people in this age group even report interest in joining the military. 

Why is Gen Z rejecting the U.S. military?


Most experts agree that the crisis is caused by competition from other jobs that offer good pay and benefits, and Gen Z’s lack of trust in the military as an institution. Much of that lack of trust is caused by greater access to information about sexual assault, racism, homophobia, and a growing lack of interest in the military lifestyle. 

How does the U.S. military recruit new soldiers?

For most of U.S. history, the military has relied on mandatory conscription (aka, the “draft”) every time there has been a major war. But youth protests against the Draft reached a peak during the Vietnam War, leading to the end of the draft in 1973. Since then, the military has relied upon an all-voluntary force – which meant they had to double down on marketing and recruiting. Since the 1970s, the military has increased their spending each year on ad campaigns and hiring recruiters across the country. Many of these recruiters visit high school and college campuses, and the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 authorized them to collect student data from high schools to do more targeted recruiting. More recently, the military has focused its marketing efforts on social media influencers and e-games to reach more young people.

What is the JROTC and is it a recruiting program?

The U.S. Army Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) calls itself a “character development and citizenship program for youth,” not a military recruiter. The National Defense Act of 1916 established organized JROTC programs at public and private educational institutions. In 1964, Congress expanded the program to all military services and changed from active duty to shared support from the services and schools. As congressionally mandated by Title 10 United States Code, Section 2031, each military service must have a JROTC program. But the JROTC creates a direct pipeline for enlistment, and their programs are especially prevalent in low-income school districts that serve students of color – and recent reports show that students are often enlisted in JROTC without their express consent. 

What does the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child say about recruiting minors for military service?

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child added a protocol in 2002 that prohibited military recruitment of minors due to the “need to increase the protection of children from involvement in armed conflict.” Only the United States and Somalia did not sign it.


Army misses recruiting goal by 15,000 soldiers (Army Times, Oct. 2022)

Fall 2021 Propensity Update (U.S. Department of Defense)

How E-girl influencers are trying to get Gen Z into the military (Dazed, Jan. 2023)

Military Esports: How Gaming Is Changing Recruitment & Morale (U.S. Department of Defense, Dec. 2022)

How 2020 is Impacting Gen Z’s Worldview (Morning Consult, June 2020)

Where are the Black officers? US Army shows diversity in its ranks but few promotions to the top (USA Today, Sep. 2020)

Demographics of the U.S. Military (Council on Foreign Relations, Jul. 2020)

Thousands of Teens Are Being Pushed Into Military’s Junior R.O.T.C. (New York Times, Dec. 2022)

Military Recruitment Provisions Under the No Child Left Behind Act: A Legal Analysis (Congressional Research Service, Jan. 2009)



Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict (United Nations, May 2020)


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