Jesse Sloman, a smart young Tufts student who wants to be a Marine officer was inspired by this blog to do some research. He found this paper, and wrote this summary:
After some research, I was able to find a Naval Postgraduate School master's thesis entitled: "AN ANALYSIS OF OFFICER ACCESSION PROGRAMS AND THE CAREER DEVELOPMENT OF U.S. MARINE CORPS OFFICERS."
The study (attached at the bottom of this email) was published by a Turkish Army officer named Levent Ergun in 2003. It would seem to largely vindicate your arguments (I realize that the USMC has a unique officer training model which is more conducive to minimizing an Academy advantage than the other services).
Maj. Ergun used data from "more than 28,000 Marines who entered between FY 1980 and 1999" to analyze performance at TBS, fitness reports up to the O-4, and promotion rates. Although the study is too complex to summarize here, a number of the findings directly relate to your argument:
1) Comparing TBS class standing percentiles by commissioning source reveals that NROTC graduates have a higher mean than USNA graduates (54.8% vs. 53.5%). OCC and PLC accessions fare the worst, while former enlisted have the highest means. (see Table 4.12 on pg. 65)
2) 10 year retention rates marginally favor USNA graduates (56.2% vs. 55.3%) but the difference is very small. Prior enlisted have significantly higher retention rates, while PLC/OCC have the lowest retention rates. (see Table 4.13 on pg. 66)
3) Looking at Performance Index (PI) and promotion rates muddies the water somewhat, but it does show that there is little difference between USNA and NROTC graduates, certainly not enough difference to support a purely cost-based argument that USNA graduates are "worth" their cost relative to NROTC graduates.
For myself, as a participant in the PLC program, the most interesting finding -- and one that is somewhat worrying -- is that PLC/OCC grads. have statistically worse performance at TBS and in subsequent evaluations in the fleet. Perhaps the Marine Corps would be best served moving from its OCS-heavy model of officer accessions to one more in line with the other services; one that relies mostly on ROTC and Academy graduates (or purely on ROTC graduates). However, the uniqueness PLC/OCC model -- particularly the freedom it allows candidates during their undergraduate years--is a serious incentive for individuals like myself who did not find ROTC's regimentation appealing. I don't think it is a coincidence that many of the "elites" commenting on your blog are joining the Marine Corps via PLC. Andrew Exum has also revealed on Abu Muqawama that he generally advises undergraduates to go the PLC route.
Of course statistics aren't everything. Considering that Ergun's study ends in 1999, one wonders if the relative increase in "elite" candidates through PLC/OCC in the post-9/11 years has altered the conclusions that held true during the 80s and 90s. Either way, I though you would find the study helpful as this discussion of the value of the Academies continue."
It's not about the Army, but it's a start. Anyone got more data?
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Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.