What about the remaining 329 officers who were commissioned from the 4,000-plus lower-ranked schools? Are they inferior officer material? Not at all-their only limitations may have been financial. The Marine Corps must not shortchange such officers by projecting an elitist image.
The Marine Corps benefits from having an academically rigorous officer corps, but there are many other qualities that make successful Marine Corps officers. We must not lose sight of this. A student athlete with average grades, who worked his way through a mainstream college may be a better Marine than a non-athlete with great grades, who graduated from a top-tier school on a full scholarship. The former often proves to be more successful in the long run in meeting today's-and tomorrow's-demands. They are more determined, better organized, and generally lead and relate better to the troops.
The academic institution one attends does not necessarily make the person, nor can one draw a direct correlation between professional success and the academic institution one attends. There are many examples of successful leaders who graduated from lesser-known colleges. H. Ross Perot may have said it best when he told a graduating high school class that it does not necessarily matter where one attends school or even the grades one attains that matters. Character development and positive use of the college experience are what really count. He added that the world is filled with exceptionally intelligent people with weak character, little ambition, no sense of commitment, and few leadership or managerial skills.
The Marine Corps prides itself on the academic diversity of its officers. It recognizes the value that various perspectives and experiences can have in decision making and mission execution. Why not apply this principle to institutional diversity?
There are great advantages in gleaning Marine Corps officers from America's top schools, especially in today's technologically complex environment. But we should not access such a disproportionate amount that it puts our retention goals at risk when there is an underused-and readily accessible-source of exceptionally well-qualified candidates available at other academic institutions. Finding a better balance is a social responsibility that should not be taken lightly. The starting point toward attaining this balance and in meeting our retention goals must be through historical analysis of officer retention in relation to their respective academic institutions. I believe that such an analysis will first tell us which institutions are not attaining acceptable retention rates relative to the Marine Corps' investment in them. Our focus then could shift to institutions that would help provide high-caliber candidates that are more career oriented.
Instituting such a philosophical change in our officer-recruitment process will be difficult-but the time for it has arrived.