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Will Student Debt Relief Really Undermine Military Recruitment?

Military recruiters often target low-income youth. Will Biden’s student loan relief plan mean vulnerable youth no longer have to choose between debt and military service?

 

Army recruiters use Navajo heritage to promote military service Photo by Alun Thomas  U.S. Army Recruiting Battalion - PhoenixSeptember 28, 2022 / Frances Nguyen / Next City - Earlier this month, 19 House Republicans, led by Rep. Pat Fallon (R-Texas), sent a letter to President Biden to raise concerns over the “unintended consequences” that his student loan relief plan would have on the military’s recruitment efforts: “By forgiving such a wide swath of loan borrowers,” the letter read, “you are removing any leverage the Department of Defense maintained as one of the fastest and easiest ways to pay for higher education.”

The plan would forgive up to $10,000 for borrowers of federal student loans who make less than $125,000 per year, and up to $20,000 for recipients of Pell Grants, a financial award for students from families with incomes below $60,000 annually. Under the plan, about 20 million borrowers could have their balances eliminated.

Indeed, one of the many reasons young recruits join the U.S. Armed Forces is to finance their education, particularly among low-income and recruits of color. A 2015 survey from the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University found that 53% of veterans were motivated into military service for educational benefits. The relief plan would undoubtedly impact that side of the sales pitch for military recruitment, but how deeply will it undermine recruiting efforts – and is the crisis of recruitment actually a crisis?

Several counter-recruiters say it’s too soon to know the impact of Biden’s student debt relief plan on their work, in part because they anticipate legal challenges blocking the relief and because the plan doesn’t impact new or future borrowers. But ultimately, they say, the success of recruitment depends on another factor.

“The single biggest predictor of military recruitment is the economy,” Elizabeth Frank, who has been involved in counter-recruitment in Chicago public schools since 2004, says, pointing to what student debt cancellation advocates argue will ultimately be a boost to the economy.

“When the economy is good, recruitment suffers,” says Frank.

Pentagon Admits Lack of Oversight to Stop Junior ROTC Sexual Abuse

dvids - JROTC Drill Video by Airman 1st Class Madison Champine  AFN PacificSept. 21, 2022 / Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs and Mike Baker / New York Times -  Pentagon officials acknowledged Wednesday that they had inadequately supervised the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps as dozens of military veterans who taught in U.S. high schools were accused of sexually abusing their students.

Speaking before a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing about military recruitment, the officials said they had begun discussing how to increase oversight of the program after a New York Times article detailed how instructors, who are retired military members, appeared to sexually abuse students at a higher rate than traditional teachers did.

“We completely agree that additional oversight is necessary,” said Stephanie Miller, a deputy assistant secretary of defense, adding that the military branches have been reviewing how to better supervise the program. “We also think that we need to take a hard look at our current background investigation process,” she said.

Responding to questions from Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, a representative of the Air Force was explicit about the branch’s failures in overseeing its instructors.

What I Discovered in the JROTC Curriculum

July-September 2022 / Lauren Reyna Morales / Draft NOtices - In the summer of 2020, I was recruited by the non-profit Project on Youth and Non-Military Opportunities (Project YANO) to review core textbooks used by the U.S. military in the high school Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (JROTC) program. Project YANO organized a team of 15 reviewers that consisted of individuals with backgrounds in either classroom teaching or education activism, or with special knowledge of subjects that JROTC claims to address in its curriculum (e.g., U.S. and world history, geography, leadership methods, etc.).

In total, eleven Army, Navy, and Marine Corps JROTC texts were reviewed. The reviewers included current and retired teachers, military veterans, and several educators with post baccalaureate credentials. I myself have been a classroom teacher for five years. I’m credentialed to teach English and Social Sciences in the state of California, and I also earned an M.A. in education from the University of Colorado, Denver. I personally reviewed an Army JROTC textbook titled, Leadership Education and Training (LET 3). I was eager to investigate the kind of curriculum JROTC utilizes to influence over 550,000 students at approximately 3,400 high schools. What, I wondered, is the U.S. military teaching to youth in their places of learning?

GOP congressman says student loan forgiveness will hurt military recruitment

August 25, 2022 / Christopher Wilson / Yahoo News - Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., said Thursday that President Biden's student loan forgiveness plan will hurt the U.S. military's ability to recruit.

"Student loan forgiveness undermines one of our military's greatest recruitment tools at a time of dangerously low enlistments," Banks wrote in a tweet as Republicans continue to attack the White House for the announcement that it would be canceling $10,000 in student loan debt for millions of Americans.

Though the White House is limiting forgiveness to those making under $125,000 per year, conservatives have attempted to paint the plan as a handout to the rich. Banks's comment appears to undercut that message, implying that lower-income Americans might no longer see joining the military as a path to a college education that wealthier families can typically afford without volunteering for service.

The US Military’s JROTC Program Is Even Worse Than You Thought

  Army JROTC cadets participate in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery on June 21, 2022, in Arlington, Virginia. (US Army Cadet Command / Flickr)August 23 2022 / Steve Early / Suzanne Gordon / Jacobin - We’ve long known that the US armed forces target poor and working-class students to meet their enlistment goals. But according to a recent report, the military’s JROTC program is also rife with sexual misconduct and outright abuse of young women.

Fifty years ago, no symbol of university complicity with the military angered more students than the on-campus presence of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC). The manpower requirements of the Vietnam era could not be met by conscription, draft-driven enlistments, and the graduating classes of military service academies alone. The Department of Defense also needed commissioned officers trained in DOD-funded military science departments at private and state universities.

Anti-ROTC campaigning became a major focus of the campus-based movement against the Vietnam War. Critics demanded everything from stripping ROTC courses of academic credit to, more popularly, kicking the program off campus. Foot-dragging by college trustees, administrators, and faculty members reluctant to cut ties with the military sparked an escalation of protest activity, from peaceful picketing to more aggressive action. ROTC buildings were trashed, bombed, or set on fire — most famously at Kent State University. There, a May 1970 arson attempt triggered a National Guard occupation that led to the fatal shooting of four students (one of them a ROTC cadet) and then the largest student strike in US history.

Navy desertions have more than doubled amid suicide concerns, as sailors feel trapped by contracts

The number of sailors who deserted the Navy more than doubled from 2019 to 2021, highlighting the lack of options contract-bound sailors face when they’re desperate to leave.

A uniform hat at a Naval Academy graduation in Annapolis, Md., in 2008.Chip Somodevilla /May 18, 2022 / Melissa Chan / NBC News - The number of sailors who deserted the Navy more than doubled from 2019 to 2021, while desertions in other military branches dropped or stayed flat, pointing to a potential Navy-wide mental health crisis amid a spate of recent suicides, according to experts and federal statistics obtained by NBC News.

Among a fleet of more than 342,000 active sailors, there were 157 new Navy deserters in 2021, compared with 63 in 2019 and 98 in 2020, Navy data shows. The total number of deserters who were still at large in 2021 grew to 166 from 119 in 2019. Most of them were 25 and younger.

“That’s staggering,” said Benjamin Gold, a defense attorney for U.S. service members.

In the wake of several suicides among sailors assigned to the warship the USS George Washington, the new desertion figures highlight the lack of options for sailors when they’re desperate to leave the military but are bound to multiyear contracts that many of them signed just out of high school.

Military law experts said the nearly unbreakable contracts — which can require up to six years of active duty — leave sailors with extreme alternatives: die by suicide or flee and face harsh consequences, including spending years behind bars as patriots-turned-pariahs.

“They feel trapped,” said Lenore Yarger, a resource counselor with the GI Rights Hotline, a nonprofit nongovernmental group that specializes in military discharges.

Young America's Dilemma: The Predatory Choice Between Student Loan Debt and Military Enlistment

Men who have signed up to join the U.S. Marines stand in line to do qualifying pull-ups at recruiting station November 16, 2021 in New York City. (Photo: Robert NickelsbergMay 16, 2022 / Liz Walters / Common Dreams -This past January, student loan company Navient was made to cancel $1.7 billion in federal student debt in a federal settlement judged by Attorney General Maura Healey. The settlement, which also required Navient to distribute $95 million in restitution to approximately 350,000 federal loan borrowers, came after a long fight against the company's predatory lending practices, which promised to help students in need of tuition assistance, and instead steered them towards repayment plans that piled on unnecessary interest. Navient also participated in risky subprime lending without consideration for borrowers and their families, leaving hundreds of thousands of students in crippling debt that the company knew they would not be able to pay back. These shady practices have been going on for at least two decades with little government intervention. The settlement provided loan forgiveness for students who had borrowed between 2002 and 2010. During this time period, Navient, now privatized, was still known as Sallie Mae, an entity created by Congress to service federal loans. As Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren put it: "Navient cheated students who borrowed money to pursue their dreams and allowed them to be crushed by avoidable debt, all while the U.S. Department of Education turned a blind eye."

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