Air Force Policy for Advanced Education: Production of Human Capital or Cheap Signals?
AIR FORCE SPECIAL OPERATIONS COMMAND HURLBURT FIELD FL SPECIAL OPERATIONS SQUADRON (19TH)
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In the first decade of the twenty-first century, the US Air Force experienced a significant policy debate regarding officer education. The question at hand concerned why officers attain graduate-level education or advanced academic degrees AAD and how those achievements should affect promotions. On the one hand, some officers, such as those serving as researchers, political affairs officers, or academic instructors, need education above and beyond their undergraduate training because the level at which they work is more specific than general. On the other hand, it is not completely clear why the vast majority of Air Force officers, such as those serving on aircrews, in personnel and finance units, and so forth, need more education than necessary to conduct their work. This second group of officers, the generalists, represents the source of contention and debate. Moreover, this controversy led to conflicting policies from the most senior leadership, leaving the issue muddled and confused for todays junior and field-grade officers. This article discusses the mainpoints of each policy and interprets them through the lens of modern economic theory. Using the well-developed ideas of human capital and signaling, along with empirical evidence, it argues that advanced education has become not a means of increasing knowledge and ability so much as a proxy for officers commitment to their careers. The article extends this line of inquiry to nonresident professional military education PME programs, in which it finds much similarity. Finally, it offers a different vision, modeled on a sister service s program, that would make the education experience more valuable for both our officer corps and the Air Force by expanding opportunities at civilian universities in exchange for long posteducational commitments.
- Personnel Management and Labor Relations