Academy sees applications drop

Decline continues for a second year

similar pattern at other service schools

March 08, 2006|By BRADLEY OLSON | BRADLEY OLSON,SUN REPORTER

Applications declined at the U.S. Naval Academy for the second straight year, dipping nearly to levels that were common before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, when applications spiked significantly at all three service academies.

The academy received 10,726 applications as of March 1, compared with 11,241 last year, almost a 5 percent decline. That paled in comparison to last year's decline of more than 20 percent, when applications fell from a peak of more than 14,000 in 2004.

The U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., and the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., experienced similar declines, officials at both academies said. West Point received 10,223 applications, compared with 10,773 the year before; and the Air Force Academy received 8,970 this year, compared with 9,604 last year. All three schools said this year's totals are close to the number of applications before the Sept. 11 attacks.

Some attribute the drop in applications to the war in Iraq, where casualties continue to mount and recent violence has raised fears of a civil war.

"I think war sometimes is a deterrent to being a warfighter," Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat, said Monday. "They may want to serve the country in another way. So I think the consequence is that."

Mikulski said the drop also could be driven by declining interest in math and science among U.S. high school students, noting the academy's national reputation as an engineering school.

But Loren Thompson, a defense analyst at the Lexington Institute, an Arlington, Va.-based public policy think tank, said public anxiety about the Iraq war is probably not a factor in declining applications at the nation's service academies.

"You would not expect problems in Iraq to severely harm application levels for the Naval Academy or for the Air Force Academy," he said. "There are relatively few people from the Navy or the Air Force stationed in Iraq. On the other hand, if Iraq was having an impact on people's academic plans, you'd expect it to hurt the Army's school at West Point quite a bit."

"That has been the pattern in the recruiting numbers - the Army's had a challenge, and the Air Force and the Navy have not," he said.

In a presentation to a civilian oversight board Monday, David Vetter, the Naval Academy's dean of admissions, said the quality of applicants hasn't gone down, pointing to standardized test scores and only minor declines in the number of "candidates," or applicants with "a realistic possibility" of being admitted.

"After 9/11, we had several consecutive years with increases in the number of applications to the Naval Academy," he said Monday. "We did experience a significant decrease in the number of applications last year, but the total was still very consistent with pre-9/11 data. And, as always has been the case in recent years, it was the largest number of applications of any of the nation's service academies."

Bonnie Newman, a senior fellow at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government and chairwoman of the academy's board of visitors, noted that the Kennedy School had seen a similar spike in applications after 9/11, followed by a gradual decline.

Numbers of minority and women applicants also declined very slightly at the academy, but officials said more of the minority applicants this year were classified as "candidates" compared with last year.

bradley.olson@baltsun.com

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