Under the Morrill Act of 1862, military training was compulsory for male students at land-grant colleges. Although military training had been taking place at some civilian colleges since 1819, the National Defense Act of 1916 established the Reserve Officer Training Corps to provide training to larger numbers of officers who would be needed for modern wars. Land-grant colleges typically required ROTC for all of their male students. Graduates of ROTC programs were inducted into the Officers Reserve Corps and could be called to active duty in the event of a war.
Navy ROTC training programs began in 1925 and were the first to offer the scholarships and other incentives that are now part of all ROTC programs. ROTC programs also exist for the Air Force and Marines. Junior ROTC programs, which focus on leadership skills, are available at many high schools. Students at more than 3,000 high schools participate in these programs.
During the Vietnam War era, many campus ROTC programs were disbanded because of faculty and student protests. At some institutions, ROTC still has not returned to campus. ROTC is now an elective part of the curriculum at many schools nationwide. Enrollment in the program dropped dramatically beginning in 2003 with the escalation of the war in Iraq.
Another issue that has plagued ROTC since the 1990s is the U.S. military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy regarding gays and lesbians in the military. This has led to protests on some campuses and the exclusion of ROTC programs at many institutions. Currently, there are about 45,000 students enrolled in ROTC programs at American colleges and universities. More than 50 percent of commissioned officers in the U.S. Army are ROTC program graduates.
Johnson, C. (2002). African Americans and the ROTC: Military, naval, and aeroscience programs at historically Black colleges, 1916–1973. Jefferson, NC: McFarland.
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