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Reflecting on education and promotions within the military

A fellow student was researching the relationship between education and promotion within the Army, so I wrote him this quick reflection:
its very true that military promotions are multi-variable; explicitly we consider the whole person concept. Education IS a factor, but only up to a point
1. enlisted soldiers get promoted based on total point worksheet which includes points earned for attendance and at military schools and separate points for attendance at civilian schools;  BUT only up to a point.  when you have max’d out that category, additional schooling does not add points.
2. for officers, there is no formal point award for promotions: they are awarded by boards who look at all records. there is a negative discriminator for younger officers who can get commissioned without a 4yr degree, but who must complete the degree in order to make Captain.
3. The Masters degree is not a discriminator for promotion to any rank, but it has achieved the status of cultural icon, where it is sort of expected. Any 2d career middle mgt job though working with the Dept of Defense will require a Master’ s degree, and since we provide opportunities to get the degrees with minimum pain, generally about 90% of MAJs have a masters or more.
4. Specialized masters and doctorates, while not boosting promotions per se, can easily lead to specialized assignments within technical domains, where longevity is assured if not advanced promotion.  West Point professorships are a case in point. guaranteed promotion to Colonel, and a 30 yr career and favorable consideration for retention after retirement as a civilian professor emeritus.
5. For  long while, excessive education actually became a cultural discriminator, because guys were not following the mainstream of service in units.  Modern officers like GEN Petraeus and BG H R McMasters are bucking the system by spending considerable time away from the service to get advanced degrees in top flight academia. Their decision was risky; their battlefield success points to potential efficacy of such a path, and there is something like a reform movement afoot to encourage more folks to get out of our own echo chamber.  i am examining this in a small way in my research.
a second thing to look at, apart from credentialing, is the actual knowledge and skill benefits you get from the degree and education, where the education gives you an edge in performance of daily mission.  this was my experience with the Masters in Systems Mgt i earned in 1993, since it gave me insights and techniques that were directly supportive of my successes in a variety of management and leadership positions in the last 15 years. I am still getting a payoff in that sense.
in conclusion, i think its useful to consider which demographic, and “how much” education, and then both the formal and informal values of the organization with respect to the importance of education.
John has uncovered an interesting and important anomoly: where theory does not fit observation;  i recommend going back to the experts on their own perceptions: ie his surveyees, to dig deeper into the disconnect.
it is also absolutely true that the single most important factor in promotions is your senior rater’s estimate of your future job performance in psitions of greater responsibility based on demonstrated performanc ein field units, especially if it was under combat conditions
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