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Table 2 Marine Corps Promotion Rates (1972-84) Advanced Bachelor’s
Capt. to Maj.
Maj. to LtCol.
LtCol. to Col.
Col. to Gen.
Source: Defense Manpower Center
Table 1 Survey Results
1. Do you feel that an officer’s career suffers if he/she does not have a graduate degree?
2. Promotion boards favor graduate degrees in selecting officers for
3. Do officers with graduate degrees have more credibility with their superiors than those who do not have such degrees?
4. All things being equal, the officer with a graduate degree should be
promoted ahead of the officer who does not have such a degree. 5. Do you encourage your fellow officers to pursue off-duty graduate
6. Graduate degrees improve one’s performance on the job.
7. Graduate degrees improve one’s communication skills, both written and oral.
8. A graduate degree improves one’s approach to problem
(Questions 9-11: Directed to officers without graduate degrees.)
9. Do you feel that a graduate degree would be beneficial to your
10. Do you feel that your superior would give you a better fitness report if you attained a graduate degree?
11. Do you feel that a graduate degree would make you more successful
in the Marine Corps?
(Questions 12-13: Directed to officers with graduate degrees.)
12. Do you feel that your graduate degree has helped you in getting promoted?
13. Do you feel that your graduate degree will help you with future
Note: *=P < .05 (significance level using Chi Square Test for analysis and validation.)
Most U. S. military officers believe that their performance determines their chances for promotion. Yet, in the same breath many will argue that there are also numerous nonperformance criteria, such as graduate degrees, that can enhance one’s chances for promotion. Unfortunately, this is difficult to substantiate because promotion boards have never been accused of adhering to strict objectivity in their decisionmaking process. One year’s board rarely uses the same guidelines as the previous year’s. We often hear that each promotion board has its own distinctive “personality” motivating its members to satisfy a different, often preconceived, resolve. We have come to expect the board’s composition to play a significant role in prioritizing the nonperformance factors.
While serving as a first lieutenant in an infantry battalion, my battalion commander called me aside and informed me that my overall performance was “outstanding.” However, he said that if I wanted to be competitive with my peers I should seek a graduate degree. Not long after I received this advice I discovered that many of my fellow officers were spending long hours after work attending evening classes at local colleges and universities. In talking to them, I found that the information that my battalion commander provided me was well known. Unfortunately, many of these officers had no interest in furthering their nonmilitary education and were seeking simply to satisfy a perceived requirement. In talking to career- minded officers who were enrolled in off-duty graduate degree courses, 1 found that most fit into two categories: 70
Wore Creative Detailing of ^actuates: Graduates of the Navy’s Test Pilot School are °rdinarily assigned to a short •°ur at one of the test center’s lrectorates or at one of the test and evaluation (VX) squadrons ’^mediately following their §raduation and their education is Put to immediate use. The same arrangement should be made for j^duates of NPS. Intelligent ritnming of some of the longer CU|Ticula would allow as much as a year and a half for a similar '‘^specialty tour while the graduate’s skills are still fresh. This would keep the shore rotation under three years.
► Emphasize Interdisciplinary Curricula: While the training of aviation engineering duty officers and engineering duty officers is a vital service to the Navy, it should not be the school’s raison d etre. Broad- based curricula designed to make students better unrestricted line officers should be expanded in such a way as to complement, but not duplicate, the efforts of the Naval War College and similar service schools.
Adoption of at least some of the suggested changes could greatly enhance the value of NPS to its parent service and keep a fine institution at the forefront of naval R & D.
Lieutenant Lillard is Ihe air warfare officer of the precommissioning unit of the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72). After making two Mediterranean deployments as an F-14 Tomcat radar intercept officer with VF-142, he earned a master’s degree in operations analysis at the Naval Postgraduate School in 1987. Lieutenant Lillard is a 1980 graduate of the Virginia Military Institute.
°se outstanding performers who ^ught a graduate degree only because k*1 l^at fa**ure t0 do so would Pede their future success, or those te0 recognized that their performance 0j. °rd was not as competitive as some j ^eir peers but hoped that a graduate Sjee would put them over the top. ler°Ung officers today, I find, are no Ss confused about this issue than their ^ ecessors, and, to make matters adv'Se’ °ften receive contradictory : Jce from their seniors. My interest this --1 ' 1 •
He ------------------------------ —
cer.’, ne respondents felt that an offi-
thQs^'eve that promotion boards favor th0sWlt|i graduate degrees more than Vv W't'10ut such degrees. (Com- Cqp '8rade officers were divided He y 0n fi**5 question.) However, n officers were asked whether or Of aey encourage their fellow officers ate (ie°rdinates to seek off-duty gradu- Wf*s, they answered affirma- y °y a margin of almost three to
a - subject prompted me to conduct tii(]UrVey °P Nlarinc Corps officers’ atti- 0f es toward the career-enhancing value ^ ^duate degrees (see Table 1). I ^ ed my questionnaire to 365 officers Jri(j een the ranks of second lieutenant 5m major general—equally divided gr °n8 those who did and did not have duUa,e degrees. The survey was con- 5n(?cd in October and November 1986 Cqi WaS sent t0 officers of the rank of at p06' and below who were stationed gearnP Pendleton, California, and ten hn ?ra* °ificers stationed across the tho Ct States. Seventy-five percent of Sp0 receiving questionnaires re-
and many even sent letters gening their positions, y a margin of more than three to
Vs Career does not suffer if he or she tts ,n0t dave a graduate degree. The Do. ,ts further showed that officers do
l one. In addition, officers who do not have graduate degrees were asked whether or not such a degree would be beneficial to their careers. Again the response was “yes,” by a margin of almost three to one. Based on the answers to a number of related questions, the consensus of the Marine Corps officers surveyed was that a graduate degree improves one’s communication skills and general approach to problem solving.
According to Defense Manpower Center promotion data for 1972-84, Marine Corps officers with graduate degrees in every promotion category, from major to general, fared better than those without graduate degrees (see Table 2). Such data, however, are not necessarily conclusive and can be interpreted in a number of ways. For example, during this period, officers with graduate degrees had better performance records than those without such credentials.
The emphasis on graduate degrees was downplayed during former Marine Corps Commandant Paul X. Kelley’s tenure partly because he did not think that such a credential should be a factor in comparing officers. In fact, during a visit to Camp Pendleton in mid- 1986 he responded to an officer’s question about the value of a graduate degree by saying that in his opinion the credential would not improve an officer’s chance for promotion. Kelley pointed to himself as an example of success without a graduate degree.
Today, the Marine Corps’ war-fighting emphasis favors a warrior mentality and basic combat skills. Graduate studies in business, management, or education are unlikely to make any real contribution to this effort. The career- minded officer who has not attended a formal military school would probably fare better by completing any or all of the career-level schools by correspondence while off-duty rather than focusing on a nonmilitary education.
Performance will likely remain the most important requirement for success. The most valued qualities in a Marine Corps officer are his leadership skills and his ability to accomplish the mission. The current performance evaluation system, however, often makes it difficult to select the best of the best. Future promotion boards may exercise their biases when breaking potential ties. The Defense Manpower Center’s promotion statistics may make some officers feel compelled to spend long hours pursuing graduate degrees, but the responses to the questionnaire indicate that officers do not think their careers will suffer if they do not have a graduate degree.
The recent cutbacks in tuition assistance can be interpreted as the Defense Department’s estimation of the value of attending college courses during off- duty hours. Undoubtedly, some officers will still seek graduate degrees, even at full cost to themselves, because they are intellectually motivated or they think an advanced degree is a necessary step to success.
Specifically, the Marine Corps must establish a policy stating whether or not promotion boards should consider an officer’s graduate degree as a criterion for promotion. It is time to officially inform Marine officers whether or not attaining a graduate degree will improve their chances for promotion.
Major Stein is the executive officer for a U. S. Marine Corps transportation battalion in Okinawa. He received his doctorate degree in education in 1987 from the U. S. International University in San Diego, California.
lnEs / June 1989