Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

Recruiting National Servants: Beyond West Point

By Jared SiegelPublished November 11, 2015

Since the United States' inception, the federal government has waived or assisted with university tuition expenses for those young people who pledge years of their lives to the armed forces. The Department of Education should administer a similar tuition-for-service exchange to motivate young people to become teachers and to alleviate nationwide teaching shortages.

By Jared Siegel 11/11/2015
Photo Credit

    In 1802, President Thomas Jefferson signed legislation establishing the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York. Jefferson, recognizing America's reliance on foreign engineers and artilleries during the Revolutionary War, wanted to ensure that the United States security forces would become self-reliant. In exchange for committing themselves to several years of obligatory service, the federal government ensured students free tuition. For the proceeding two centuries, the United States military relied on this tuition-for-service agreement to recruit and train its most indispensable soldiers and leaders.  

    Today, the United States is facing a shortage of personnel in a public institution of comparable importance to our armed forces - our schools. The United States is experiencing teacher shortages across the country. In Arizona, for example, 62 percent of the state's districts reported teaching vacancies during the 2013-2014 school year.

    Teaching shortages stem, in large part, from a decline in the number of young people interested in pursuing teaching careers. Between 2012 and 2013, the number of students from Arizona enrolled in university teacher preparation programs fell 7 percent. In Indiana, another state with a growing teaching shortage, the number of new applicants for teaching licenses, between 2010 and 2014, fell by over 50 percent. The problem is pronounced across the entire country. Nationwide, between 2004 and 2012, enrollment in university education preparation programs fell by 10 percent.

    The United States federal government has the opportunity to incentivize young people to enter the teaching profession and take a major step towards eliminating shortages. Just as Jefferson brought young people into the armed forces by offering tuition-free education, so too can the present federal government bring bright young adults into our classrooms. Washington should pass legislation to install a program that covers the cost of college tuition for students who pledge to fill public school teaching vacancies for a minimum of three years.

    The growing student debt epidemic suggests that this program would garner enormous interest from young people across the country. The average graduating college senior is crippled by $33 thousand in student debt.  23 percent of college loans outstanding are seriously delinquent, meaning they have been gone unpaid 90 days beyond their due date.  Students are revealing increasing fear that student debt will continue to weigh them down beyond the foreseeable future. Offering students the opportunity to fund college tuition by entering a career in teaching presents a pathway out of debt.

    Government subsidized tuition has proved enormously effective in recruiting armed servicemen and women. The federal government should expand this practice to recruit young people to essential service professions that do not require a uniform.