Oddly enough, despite two incredibly unpopular wars, membership in the Army Reserve Officer Training Corps has been on the increase in the last six years. Now why would this be the case? ROTC leaders suggest patriotism. There’s probably a more practical explanation.

According to an article by Jenna Johnson in the Washington Post:

The number of college students in the Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps has grown 50 percent since the 2005-06 school year, with the Army outpacing its goals for minting new officers as it sees a surge of patriotism at schools across the country.

The article attributes the growth in ROTC participation to some sort of ambiguous growth in national pride and a desire to give back.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the Army saw national ROTC enrollment jump from 28,470 during the 2000-01 school year to more than 30,800 two years later. But as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq waged on, the number steadily dropped to a low of 24,312 in 2005-06.

About that time, the Army increased its goal for the number of new officers and pumped more money into scholarships and recruitment. Enrollment has been steadily ticking up since, reaching a high of 36,474 the past school year.

The reasons for this are unclear. “The Army doesn’t track the reasons students join,” according to the article. But is it really difficult to figure this one out? While there’s a lot of discussion in the piece about the importance of “service” to participants, that, along with things like “improved campus culture” and “ROTC leaders have made an effort to better communicate with their host colleges” constitute pretty vague explanations for what might seem to be a pretty puzzling trend.

Realistically the most compelling explanations for the growth in ROTC participation are two very important changes that occurred in America between 2005 and today: 1. The wars are ending. With the completion of the war in Iraq and the drawdown of troops in Afghanistan, ROTC participants are significantly less likely to face death or dismemberment in pointless failed missions in the desert and, 2. The nation’s financial system collapsed. The weak economy and continuing tuition escalation in America makes the ROTC one of the few affordable ways for students from struggling families to get a college education. It’s not like parents can refinance the house anymore.

The Army ROTC program provides recipients with full tuition assistance (as in free college), money for textbooks and campus fees, and a monthly stipend of several hundred dollars.

Sure, ROTC growth might have something to do with patriotism, but it probably has a lot more to do with very practical decisions students and their families are making.

Our ideas can save democracy... But we need your help! Donate Now!

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer