An Honor and a Bargain

January 10, 1995

We fail to understand the hand-wringing at the U.S. Naval Academy over the drop in admission applications.

According to a recent Sun article by reporter Tom Bowman, the academy's advisory Board of Visitors is asking President Clinton to reconsider a new requirement that increases the time academy graduates must serve in the military. The board says that by increasing the graduate's service obligation from five years to six, some of the nation's top students have been discouraged from applying to the academy.

"These kids don't think past a burger Saturday night," the dean of admissions said. "And they're saying, 'That's 10 years of my life.'"

Maybe some students are turned off by the six-year requirement, but we believe it should remain.

It costs $250,000 to educate a young person in a service academy. The additional year was added to a graduate's military service to give taxpayers more for their money. In today's political climate, it would be unreasonable to demand less.

But there are other reasons to leave it intact. The decline in applications to the academy is no tragedy because it comes at a time when the institution is under orders to pare the size of the brigade anyway. Academy enrollment, which reached a high of 4,500 midshipmen in 1990, must be reduced to 4,000 by next September. Currently, a little more than 4,100 midshipmen attend the academy.

Understandably, U.S. Naval Academy officials want to attract this country's best and brightest young people, but an applicant's dedication to a military career ought to be considered as well as scholastic performance.

Maybe some young people cannot look beyond the next weekend, but they are not the kind of people we want to be training as military officers. For a young person aspiring to a military career, a service academy education is a tremendous bargain as well as an honor.

A midshipman at Annapolis receives one of the best educations in the country -- for free. Even more important, a graduate from the Naval Academy is guaranteed a good job as a military officer. That is more than many young people can expect upon graduation from traditional college and universities these days.

We don't think it is too much to ask that Naval Academy graduates serve their country for six years in return.

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