DOD Service Academies:

Academy Preparatory Schools Need a Clearer Mission and Better Oversight

NSIAD-92-57: Published: Mar 13, 1992. Publicly Released: Apr 1, 1992.

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Paul L. Jones
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the service academy preparatory schools that the Army, Air Force, and Navy operate to prepare selected individuals for admission to their service academies.

GAO found that: (1) the schools' missions are not clearly defined, since the Department of Defense (DOD) has neither formalized the schools' missions nor monitored their operations; (2) initially, the services established the schools to prepare enlisted personnel for admission to the service academies, but now the schools appear to be pursuing differing goals regarding such specific subgroups as enlisted personnel, females, minorities, and recruited athletes; (3) academy faculty have periodically assessed the operations of their respective schools, but their assessments have not been made against a uniform set of quality and performance standards; (4) DOD has not established the criteria it needs to evaluate the schools; (5) DOD has not issued guidelines on how the services should estimate the schools' operating costs and does not require the schools to regularly report on such costs; (6) the Navy, Army, and Air Force preparatory programs cost about $39,800, $50,900, and $60,900, respectively, for each student entering an academy, almost as much or more than it costs to send someone to the corresponding academy for a year and about 2.5 to 4 times the cost of sending a student to a top college for a year; and (7) preparatory school students' academic and military performance at the academies is somewhat below the performance average of cadets and midshipmen who did not attend a preparatory school, but since DOD has not established performance goals for the preparatory schools, it does not have a basis for evaluating whether the results the schools achieve are satisfactory.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD and the services developed specific mission statements for the prep schools.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should determine what role the prep schools should play among the services' officer production programs and direct the services to clarify their school missions accordingly.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD has contracted with the American Council on Education for assistance in developing a means to evaluate the quality of the prep school programs and faculty.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should consult with recognized authorities on educational quality to determine what standards would be appropriate to apply to the prep schools in terms of faculty and curriculum and require periodic reviews by qualified independent parties to ensure that the schools meet the standards.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD has developed an instruction to standardize the reporting of prep school costs that GAO implemented to apply to the 1992-1993 academic year.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should establish standardized guidelines for the services to use in estimating school costs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Cost effectiveness will be evaluated annually beginning with the 1992-1993 academic year. DOD will consider alternative programs.

    Recommendation: Once performance standards and cost estimating guidelines are in place, the Secretary of Defense should require periodic analysis of the cost-effectiveness of continuing to operate the prep schools. Consideration should be given to the role the schools play in helping the academies to obtain adequate numbers of qualified women and minorities. Given the relatively high cost per cadet/midshipman placed at an academy, consideration should also be given to alternative methods of providing academy preparation, such as using existing educational institutions or the private sector.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense


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