Friday, June 27, 2008

No Free College For You

I applied to something like seven different universities when I was in high school. I combed through college guides (the internet was not quite the resource it can be today, I shudder to think how much bigger my list might have been. Or conversely smaller.) I watched laser discs (ah, remember back when that was the format that was going to make video obsolete?) - essentially virtual campus tours and I read almost every brochure that came through the door after I took the PSATs and SATs. All of this is to say, that I starting making lists early on as a high school junior, and while certainly I was standing in the post office the day some of my applications had to be postmarked getting everything into the envelope, but I knew when all my deadlines were well in advance. And I knew that to apply to the Air Force Academy (which I did) I needed a nomination.
Yes, Air Force Academy, Naval Academy, Merchant Marine Academy and West Point still work on a nomination system. (Coast Guard uses a more mainstream process.) So, in order to apply, you first have to be nominated. There are other routes, but the most common is to get a nomination from your congressperson. And there's the rub, because as a DC resident, there's only one for you to turn to. So, I went downtown and met with then Representative Walter Fauntroy and a panel of folks representing the academies for my interview, wrote my essay,trained for the fitness test, and waited. I received the nomination, but if I hadn't, I had very limited other options.
But, as it turns out, right now, Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton isn't using the full amount of nominations available to her. Why? Lack of applications.
Now certainly, folks today are possibly more aware that joining the military means, you know, serving in places where you might die. But, there are still people enlisting. I hear of kids going from high school and enlisting. And certainly some of them are doing this, in part, to get a free education. So, what if they could do the education part first? Wouldn't some of them want to?
Now, I know in recent years, there's been a lot of effort to make sure that military recruiters don't get undue access to high schoolers. And certainly the free academy education comes with a commitment to serve, so it should be weighed carefully by students and parents. And sure, some students may be enlisting because students don't get salaries. But, free education, certainly that should get a little better press.
The live chat (while certainly not a representative group of people, but still) showed some varying views on military academies, but also some insight from at least one person who claimed to have worked in academy recruiting comparing DC to other regions. Apparently, some of the disconnect is an expectation that DC public school are not able tor produce enough qualified candidates. However, as was mentioned throughout the chat, while no one denies that DCPS needs to serve its students better, there are DC students going to other top schools, so that is certainly not the only factor.