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So Many Stupid Kids Are Going To College, Marine Officers Are Actually Getting Dumber

Lance Cpl. John Kennicutt/US Marine Corps

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Jonah Bennett Contributor
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A new study indicates that Marine Corps officers’ intelligence has consistently declined over a 35-year period, and researchers are placing the blame on the “democratization of college,” that is, an ever-expanding pool of college graduates.

Brookings Institution researchers Matthew F. Cancian and Michael W. Klein looked at General Classification Test (GCT) scores from 1980 to 2014, finding a steady decline, which is troubling since the GCT predicts success in the military.

Officer scores dropped by 8.8 points, moving from an average of 130.9 in 1980 to 122.1 in 2014.

While the GCT has been replaced by the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery in all services, it remains the test of choice for assessing officers in the Marine Corps. The authors note that the intelligence of officers is extremely important: Even though officers only comprise 16 percent of the military, they have a much stronger influence on military effectiveness. Still, very few studies have examined the quality of the officer corps.

Interestingly, the normal pool of recruits has not seen a dramatic intelligence decline. Instead, about 60 percent of recruits during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars possessed high school diplomas and slightly above-average intelligence.

According to Cancian and Klein, the drop isn’t due to the influx of women and African-Americans into the officer ranks, as some have argued. Instead, an expanding pool of college graduates means that a greater number of people are eligible to join Officer Candidate School. Since academic talent does not predict success in OCS, declining scores in college are reflected among new officers every year. OCS mandates that candidates either go through a 10-week program or two six-week courses. Students are placed in situations designed to test them for confidence and leadership ability.

By World War II standards, approximately 40 percent of Marine Corps officers in 2014 would not have qualified.

The precise impacts of lower intelligence scores are not clear. The authors argue that “given the myriad studies associating performance with intellect, however, it is hard to imagine anything other than a seriously deleterious impact on the quality of officers and, by extension, on the quality and efficacy of the military.”

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