Dec 19, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Defense bill seeks ROTC diversity numbers

 Southridge Senior High School Air Force ROTC cadets in Miami holding banner during Veterans Day Parade.

Southridge Senior High School Air Force ROTC cadets holding banner. Photo: Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

A provision in the defense bill passed by Congress requires the Department of Defense to collect crucial demographic data on programs training students to be commissioned officers.

Why it matters: The Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) is a significant pipeline for officers in all branches of the U.S. military, yet Black Americans and Latinos are underrepresented among officer corps.

By the numbers: Black Americans make up 19% of active duty enlistments but only 9% of active-duty officers and only 6.5% of generals, according to the Defense Department.

  • Latinos comprise 17.2% of active duty members. They represent only 8% of the officer corps and 2% of general/flag officers, according to a 2019 report by the Congressional Research Service.

Zoom out: Jennifer Akin, chief of staff of Blue Star Families, said ROTC scholarships expand access for diverse prospective officer recruits by offering a funded pathway to bachelor's degree attainment and an officer career.

  • "Unfortunately, our analysis found that there was a gap in the data collected and reported. ROTC scholarship awards and program completion data are not collected or reported by demographics, like race and ethnicity or gender."

The intrigue: An amendment to the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) requires the DOD to collect individual demographic (race, ethnicity, gender) data on ROTC scholarship awards or program completions.

What they're saying: "This amendment requires data collection for ROTC scholarship awards to include demographic data that will give us more insight into how we can expand the next class of diverse and inclusive leaders," U.S. Rep. Marilyn Strickland (D-Wash.) said in a statement.

  • She said offering scholarships will expand access and diversity of our future military officers.

Bottomline: Better data could pave the way for ROTC programs to recruit more people of color and help develop a pipeline for new officers.

Editor's note: This article has been corrected to remove reference to the defense bill being a funding bill (it's a policy bill).

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