Air Force ROTC enrollment spikes at military-rich Clemson
Clemson University’s Air Force ROTC program is strong and growing.
Though the program’s 47 percent enrollment increase over the past two years can in large part be attributed to increased federal budget allocations aimed at growing the Air Force in general, including a shortage of Air Force pilots, tradition and brand are variables that may also be contributing to the spike in cadet enrollments.
“Enrollment increases will ebb and flow with federal budget cycles and other factors,” said Col. Keith Balts, commander of Detachment 770. “The growing overall number of Air Force members, in addition to specifically increasing the number of pilots, will likely result in an increase in ROTC scholarship and non-scholarship cadets for the next couple of years, and provide more opportunities for those who want to serve. But there may also be some intangibles that are contributing to the rise in enrollment at Clemson.”
Since its establishment in 1947, Detachment 770 has been cited for many prestigious regional and national achievements among its university-based military education counterparts. And, the detachment has played a key role in Clemson University’s rich military history.
Balts said there are additional factors that influence a student’s decision to become a cadet at one school over another. The reasons are many, but a few include home-state allegiance, reputation, family ties and curriculum strength in certain majors.
“Clemson’s brand and tradition are strong and definitely a draw for many students, and I believe that tradition extends to the heritage of the ROTC programs for students seeking a military education and eventual commission as an officer,” Balts said. “The military heritage is very visible on campus with the likes of Bowman Field, Military Heritage Plaza, and the Scroll of Honor, plus events that pay tribute to that heritage, like Military Appreciation Week during football season and other activities tied to other sports or as stand-alone events.”
But it’s more than the visible signs of Clemson’s military heritage that sets the university apart from other campuses offering ROTC programs.
“The military programs here have a very strong and committed network of support from leadership on campus. From Sikes Hall to the College of Business Dean’s office, they all understand the importance of continuing to build on Clemson’s military heritage and what the ROTC programs offer. And then there’s our alumni support. They want to come back and contribute their time, talents and treasure to a program they found critical to their own Clemson experience and post-college life. Many do so individually, but they also contribute generously through the Clemson Corps, an extremely supportive alumni group, unparalleled across the 145 Air Force ROTC detachments nation-wide.”
There is no denying that a shortage of 1,500 Air Force pilots is a driver of the enrollment increase. And another 1,600 pilots are expected to leave the service over the next four years. To address the shortfall, the Air Force is creating financial incentives and limiting lengthy deployments. It is hoped those measures and others will stem the flight of pilots leaving for more lucrative private-sector jobs.
Two Clemson cadets who are doing their part to address the pilot shortage are seniors Cameron and Evan Dunker of Aiken, S.C. The Dunker twins will be commissioned second lieutenants upon graduation in May and have been awarded pilot-training slots. Both believe the university’s reputation and brand are contributors to the AFROTC enrollment spike.
“It’s well established the scholarships are increasing because of a need for Air Force pilots,” said Evan. “But, I believe the Clemson environment and a brand that has been enhanced by a national football championship is also contributing to those numbers.”
Added Cameron, “Our program is really strong at recruiting potential cadets out of high school and I do believe the brand and the family-friendly culture of Clemson is drawing potential cadets here rather than to other programs. There is a genuine sense of people wanting you to succeed here, and that extends into the Air Force ROTC program.”
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