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Army Launches Bid To Recruit School Dropouts

Military: Plan designed to draw 6,000 people a year will help them arrange and finance study for general equivalency diplomas. Program for two-year college students is also unveiled.

WASHINGTON -- The Army on Thursday rolled out a pilot program aimed at recruiting promising high school dropouts--including many from the large labor pool of young Latinos--by helping them arrange and finance study for general equivalency diplomas.

The three-year GED-Plus program is intended to bring in as many as 6,000 young people nationwide each year from 17 regions and cities, including Los Angeles. To qualify, candidates must score in the top 50% on the military's entrance aptitude test and in the top 75% of applications on a motivation test.

Army officials, facing a worsening recruiting climate, hope that the program will find a receptive audience in the Latino community, where the high school dropout rate is about 50% nationwide, which experts attribute largely to economic and cultural factors. Recruiting officials are planning special Spanish-language advertising in Los Angeles and San Antonio.

People from Latino backgrounds have "the work ethic, the drive and the discipline we're looking for," Army Secretary Louis Caldera, a former California legislator, said at a Pentagon news conference that brought together top Army officials, retired Gen. Colin Powell and U.S. Education Secretary Richard W. Riley. Caldera added, however, that the program will aim to bring in qualified young people of other backgrounds too.

The Army also unveiled a second pilot program that it hopes will attract 6,000 recruits interested in two-year college degrees by allowing them to sign up, attend college for as much as two years, then serve. Officials hope that by offering this option, they will attract young people who have stayed away from the military because it would interfere with their desire to complete two years of college immediately after high school.

Candidates in this College-Plus program who sign up for active duty service will be eligible for a stipend of up to $150 a month while they attend college. They will be able to use money from the military's loan repayment programs to cover their educational costs.

Others enrolled in this program will go into reserve programs and be eligible for drill pay received by reservists.

The military has been leery of recruiting young people without high school diplomas because its research has shown that they drop out of the services at higher rates than candidates with diplomas. The attrition rate is about 50% over three years for nongraduates, versus about one third for those with diplomas.

Nonetheless, under pressure to sign up about 80,000 soldiers a year, the Army two years ago increased its share of nongraduates, from 5% to 10% of recruits. The Navy did likewise.

With the GED-Plus program, the Army will continue the move in that direction by paying tuition while recipients study to prepare for their general equivalency exams.

The GED program will cost about $100 a student. About 4,000 candidates will go on active duty and 2,000 into the reserves.
Officials insisted that the aptitude and motivation tests will ensure that the Army gets good candidates.

Powell, one of the Army's most prominent alumni, said emphatically that although he still believes that a high school diploma is a valuable tool for predicting success, the new programs "don't lower standards."
"What we're saying is that there are young people out there who deserve a second chance," said Powell, who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Persian Gulf War. He now leads a program called America's Promise, which works to help disadvantaged youth.

In fact, the military has eased some requirements in recent years, analysts said. But they noted that standards have risen and fallen over the years and that entrance requirements remain high by historical standards.

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