U campuses' pipeline to the military is under federal review

  • Article by: COREY MITCHELL , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 6, 2014 - 5:12 AM

Underperforming Twin Cities, Duluth units prompt federal scrutiny of training costs

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making the grade: The University of Minnesota Army ROTC unit, shown training on Tuesday, is one of three on the Twin Cities campus and the only one producing enough officers, according to standards that call for graduating at least 15 a year. The Army unit had 40 in 2012.

Photo: COURTNEY PERRY • Special to the Star Tribune,

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Minnesota colleges graduate dozens of newly minted military officers each year through the campus-based Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, a nearly century-old program that has helped the military broaden and diversify its officer corps.

But ROTC units on two University of Minnesota campuses are facing federal scrutiny and possible cuts because they are failing to turn out enough officers.

The Navy ROTC unit at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus graduated only 13 officers in 2012, while the Air Force unit produced 10. Air Force ROTC at the U’s Duluth campus graduated seven officers. By contrast, the U’s Army ROTC unit in the Twin Cities graduated 40 officers.

Officials say that nationwide, Air Force and Navy units tend to lag behind Army ROTC, but in some cases, the numbers fall below 15 — the military’s cutoff for what constitutes underperformance.

Such underperforming units tend to incur far higher costs, with average training and education expenses per officer averaging $95,000. In units that produce 30 or more officers a year, the average cost is less than half that — $42,000 per graduate.

That has the Government Accountability Office questioning whether the U’s three subpar ROTC units are cost-effective.

Auditors from the GAO, Congress’ investigative arm, are eyeing the effectiveness of 237 ROTC units nationwide that fell short of the mark in 2012, the most recent year with available data.

Pentagon officials charged with overseeing the nation’s ROTC program have pledged to carry out cost-cutting by July 2015, which could include consolidation.

The Defense Department is working to “establish a systematic process to routinely evaluate ROTC program performance,” Jeffrey Mayo, director of accession policy at the Pentagon, wrote in response to the GAO report.

University of Minnesota corps leaders say they are not rattled by the threat of looming cuts.

“There is no plan for us in place now, and I can conceive of a number of different scenarios where there would be no effect at all,” said Capt. Dave Ratte, Naval ROTC unit commandant at the University of Minnesota.

Budget battles

Calling on Congress to rethink military spending, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has proposed a scaled-back, modern military that would trim the Army to its size before World War II.

Costs for the ROTC already are being cut. Last year the Army closed 13 ROTC units in 10 states. At least nine of those schools had programs producing fewer than 15 officers per year.

Consolidation also has become common. The University of Minnesota’s Army ROTC unit draws students from nine other colleges.

Sometimes such partnerships have helped boost enrollment.

The Army ROTC unit at St. John’s University in Collegeville, which also serves students from St. Cloud State University and the College of St. Benedict, graduated 20 officers, putting them above the 15-graduate cutoff for underperformance.

In other cases, the mergers have yielded less success.

  • ROTC review

    Three Minnesota Reserve Officer Training Corps units are producing 15 or fewer officers a year, leading the federal Government Accountability Office to question whether they are cost-effective. Here’s a school-by-school look at how many officers the state’s ROTC units produced in 2012, the latest year for which data is available.

    College Army Navy Air Force Total

    Minnesota State University, Mankato 24 — — 24

    Saint John’s University 20 — — 20

    University of Minnesota Duluth — — 7 7

    University of Minnesota Twin Cities 40 13 10 63

    University of St. Thomas — — 16 16

    Source: Government Accountability Office

    TRAINING COST PER OFFICER

    ROTC unit programs

    Training cost for each officer:

    >30 graduates a year: $42,000

    <15 graduates a year: $95,000

    Runway vs. roads

    MSP

    Runways: 6 miles

    Flights per day: 1,150

    Ice buster: Potassium acetate, $4 a gallon

    MPLS.

    Streets: 1,100 miles

    Cars per day: 19,800 alone on Lyndale Avenue S., at W. Lake Street

    Ice buster: Good old rock salt, $59 per ton

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