Cadets and midshipmen typically join the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) because they are inspired to join the ranks of uniformed service members. Most are motivated by a desire to serve, to challenge themselves, and to partake in the rigors of military life. No one begins an ROTC program expecting to eventually face disenrollment.
However, and for a multitude of reasons, many do find themselves at risk of disenrollment, which can have a catastrophic impact on their lives. It can mean losing their future career and owing the government thousands of dollars. For any cadet or midshipman facing investigation or disenrollment, the stakes are extremely high. The good news is that, with the help of an experienced disenrollment prevention lawyer, ROTC students can often successfully fight a disenrollment action.
What is ROTC?
Every branch of the military except for the Coast Guard offers ROTC, a college-level program for students who are interested in commissioning as an officer in the U.S. military. ROTC provides students with the opportunity to simultaneously prepare for a military career while they earn a bachelor's degree in an academic field of study. Students are able to attend a college of their choice (provided that the college offers an ROTC program or is affiliated with one that does) and receive the significant financial aid necessary to finance a college education in a time when the cost of education has never been higher. In exchange, the students agree to accept a military commission and to serve in the military for a set period of time after graduation.
History of ROTC
ROTC was founded at Norwich University in 1819 by Captain Alden Partridge, a former superintendent of West Point. Partridge saw the need for an educated officer corps that was prepared for military life while also capable of seamlessly transitioning into civilian life when their service was not needed. He believed that the military would benefit from having well-rounded officers who were wise in a broad range of academic fields of study. Partridge's goal was to create a program that would train students in both traditional subject areas and military science, preparing them for both serving in the military when necessary and moving into civilian life during times of peace.
The program Partridge set out to build would be different from a service academy, like United States Military Academy at West Point or the Naval Academy at Annapolis, in that students would participate in military training in addition to attending to completing regular university requirements. By contrast, the service academies prioritize military training over outside academic pursuits, producing officers who are highly skilled in military sciences but not as educated in non-military pursuits.
Partridge created such a program at Norwich and, over the next century, it grew in popularity and was expanded to other educational institutions. When President Woodrow Wilson signed the National Defense Act of 1916, military training programs at non-service academy universities were brought under the control of the federal government, renamed as the Reserve Officers' Training Corps, and modern-day ROTC programs were born.
What ROTC Means Today
In present-day ROTC programs, students are referred to as “cadets” or “midshipmen,” just as they are at the service academies and, following graduation, ROTC participants are expected to immediately begin serving in the military as officers, just like service academy graduates are also required to do.
The Army is the largest branch of the military, and likewise, the Army has the largest ROTC program. Students in Army and Air Force ROTC programs are known as “cadets,” and students in Navy and Marine Corps ROTC programs are known as “midshipmen.” In exchange for receiving an ROTC scholarship, students in both Army and Navy ROTC programs are obligated to serve in the military for a certain number of years after graduation, usually eight.
ROTC scholarships are relatively easy for students to receive, though recipients must commit to military service following graduation in order to receive a scholarship. However, students are also able to participate in ROTC programs without receiving a scholarship or committing to military service after graduation. Students who do not receive an ROTC scholarship are still known as cadets and midshipmen but do not have to make a decision about commissioning until their junior year. This allows uncertain students to sample the military lifestyle through ROTC for two years before having to commit to military service.
After graduating, the newest service members receive the ranks of Second Lieutenant (Army) and Ensign (Navy) and receive all the benefits associated with being in the military, including health insurance, a steady paycheck, paid vacation, and job security.
Institutions that Offer ROTC
ROTC programs are offered at three different types of colleges and universities:
- Senior military colleges (all branches of the military)
- Junior military colleges (Army and Air Force only)
- Traditional four-year degree-granting institutions (Army, Air Force, Navy, and USMC)
The type of institution where a student enrolls in ROTC will determine that student's experience, and the experiences can differ quite a bit between institution types. For example, senior military colleges (such as The Citadel, Norwich University, University of North Georgia, Texas A&M, Virginia Military Institute, and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and University) immerse students in a very militaristic lifestyle. Cadets attending these schools typically will wear uniforms every day and will live in barracks.
Students at junior military colleges (such as Georgia Military Institute, Marion Military Institute, New Mexico Military Institute, and Valley Forge Military Academy) also have a very militaristic educational experience. Junior military colleges are not, however, the same as military preparatory schools, though there is some crossover between the two. Junior military colleges offer two-year associates degree programs in a fully immersive military setting, similar to be a service academy or a senior military college. Students at junior military colleges typically participate in Army Early Commissioning Programs, which allow cadets to commission as officers in the Army Reserves in two years. Military preparatory schools, by contrast, exist to help students gain admission to military academies by helping improve their grades and admission packets.
In contrast, to both senior and junior military colleges, cadets and midshipmen participating in ROTC programs at traditional colleges and universities live the same college lifestyle as their non-ROTC peers. They live in dorms, are not often required to wear uniforms, are allowed to participate in university extracurricular activities, and eat with other students in dining halls and in on-campus restaurants.
When a student accepts an ROTC scholarship, he or she is administered the oath of office for appointment into the military. That's why these students receive the military rank of cadet or midshipman despite still being in college. They are, essentially, members of the military at this point. They also sign a complex contract that explains what benefits they will receive and the requirements they must meet in return. Cadets and midshipmen on scholarship must maintain certain academic standards and adhere to military physical fitness, height, and weight requirements. They must also attend and complete certain military training and adhere to military standards of moral, ethical, and lawful conduct. The contract also sets out the term of military service the cadet or midshipmen is obligated to fulfill. It is, in every sense of the word, a contract the student enters into with the U.S. government.
Breach of Contract
When an ROTC cadet or midshipman is said to have failed to meet the requirements of the contract, he or she may be referred for disenrollment from the ROTC program. The military views the cadet or midshipman's failure to meet the requirements as a breach of the contract the student entered into with the military. As the student is seen to have breached their side of the contract, the government seeks to also exit its own side of the agreement and to recover the cost of the breach.
For the student, this could mean the military may withdraw any future finan