UI ROTC sees declining funding, increasing applicants

BY DEREK KELLISON | MAY 04, 2012 6:30 AM

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Faced with declining funding and an increasing number of applicants, University of Iowa Reserve Officer Training Corps members said they're ready to meet the challenge.


Officials said national funding has fluctuated over time — but never as dramatically as the last three years.

"In 2007, there was no talk of drawdowns," said Lt. Tony Wolf, UI Army ROTC scholarship and enrollment officer. "This is about the equivalent of shutting off the water faucet."

The Air Force ROTC program has seen similar drawbacks on a smaller scale, said Lt. Col. Darren Makela.

"We, are to a point, in the same situation," he said.


The UI Army ROTC program has traditionally offered around 20 four-year scholarships — which cover tuition and stipends for books and supplies.

But in the 2010-11 school year, national Army officials reduced the number of scholarships nationwide, leaving the UI program with only three. The drop coincided with a jump from under 400 applicants that year to more than 500 this year.

The applicant surge may stem from students looking for college funding in light of the poor economy, Wolf said.

"What I'm hearing from students is loans and grants aren't as free-flowing," Wolf said. "People are willing to do more to get money to pay for school."

Randy Plunkett, director of outreach at Military.com, said the funding troubles stem from the withdrawal of troops serving in Iraq.

"The decreased number of funding is because there's just not as much need for officers," he said.
Wolf, calling the mix of applicant overflow and cuts "ironic," said varying mission caps — which allow officials to cut cadets already in the program — have been placed at UI and nationwide programs in response to the surge of interested students. Yet the program cannot deny entry to those who enroll and fulfill the requirements.

"There's no way to turn [applicants] down," he said. "We welcome them aboard, train them, and hope they get the opportunity to go out in the field."

Air Force

Air Force ROTC scholarships at the UI have begun to recover after being eliminated completely in 2010 because of a lack of enrollment. One scholarship was added in 2011 after improved cadet standing, and another seven this followed this year.

Enrollment rose from 44 in fall 2007 to 63 in fall 2011.

Makela said the lack of funding and restricted enrollment created more competition among cadets, leading to overall improved performance of the program in national status. ROTC cadets are ranked on their scholarly and physical performance at a national level by military councils.

Funding returned as the program's ranking climbed, Makela said.

"Nationwide funding has gone down, but because of the quality of our cadets, scholarships have gone up," Makela said. "The quality gets higher as the bar is set higher [nationally.]"

And the need for money, he said, is only one factor.

"People think in the long run they need a job," he said. "We'd like to think people are assuming more patriotism as well."

Air Force ROTC Cadet Amanda Heller said cadets have taken to the challenge presented by the ROTC programs because they feel the need to serve their country.

"Air Force ROTC is very competitive," the cadet wing commander said. "It's not just about money, it's not just about making friends in a club. You're competing for slots that everybody in the country is basically competing for within the program."

Makela said UI education and the achievements of the cadets themselves have contributed to the Air Force program's competitiveness.

"We can't just drop scholarships," he said. "We have to pick the best at the national level. We target specific fields, but we're looking for great folks overall."

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