Navy Lowers Standards In Face Of Recruitment Crunch

As the U.S. military continues to experience a recruiting and retention crisis, the Navy has once again relaxed its standards, now welcoming individuals without high school diplomas or General Educational Development (GED) credentials. This decision, the second of its kind in about a year, aims to address the service’s struggle to meet its enlistment goals.

The latest policy, which allows recruits scoring 50 or above on the Armed Services Qualification Test to join the Navy, marks a significant shift from traditional recruitment standards. This test, with a maximum score of 99, measures a recruit’s potential for military training and service. Notably, the Navy last enlisted individuals without educational credentials in 2000, indicating the severity of the current recruitment crisis.

Vice Adm. Rick Cheeseman, the Navy’s chief of personnel, highlighted the urgency of this change in an interview with The Associated Press. “We get thousands of people into our recruiting stations every year that want to join the Navy but do not have an education credential. And we just turn them away,” Cheeseman said. He estimates that out of the more than 2,400 turned away last year, up to 500 could have scored high enough to be admitted under the new standards.

The pandemic has exacerbated recruitment challenges across the military. COVID-19 forced the closure of recruiting stations and limited access to traditional recruitment venues like high schools and public events. Even with the easing of pandemic restrictions, the military struggles to compete with private-sector businesses offering attractive benefits, including college funding — historically a significant draw of military service.

In the last fiscal year, the Navy, Army and Air Force failed to meet their recruitment targets, which raises questions about the military’s ability to maintain a force ready to meet national security demands. The Navy set an ambitious goal of 40,600 recruits for this year, up from last year’s target of 37,700, which it fell short of by nearly 6,000.

The Navy’s approach differs markedly from other services. It remains the only branch that enlists “category four” recruits — those scoring 30 or less on the qualification test. While these recruits can fill roles that do not require high overall scores, such as cooks or boatswain mates, they differ from the more stringent criteria applied by the Army, Marine Corps, and Air Force.

Cheeseman acknowledges the risks, particularly the higher boot camp failure rates among lower-scoring recruits. However, he believes this risk is manageable, noting that the difference in boot camp completion rates between high and low-scoring recruits hasn’t been significant — so far.