On August 20, 2022, Virginia Military Institute’s Superintendent Major General Cedric Wins announced that a total of 372 matriculants (or “Rats” by tradition) had signed in, officially beginning their four-year journey through the trials, tribulations, traditions, and triumphs of the Institute. But this year’s incoming class was considerably smaller than the school’s goal of 500+. Furthermore, it was much smaller than last year’s number of New Cadets.
An interested observer might wonder why. Reasons given vary, but a review of the data suggests that VMI’s dwindling number reflects something other than COVID or a drop in enrollment nationwide. Before detailing those reasons, it is worth noting that VMI’s low enrollment of new students is not taking place in a vacuum. Both the federal service academies as well as the U.S. Army, particularly among the armed forces, are experiencing similar recruiting difficulties.
An August 19th article in Military.com (“Applications to Service Academies Plummet Amid Recruitment and Pandemic Woes”) reported a “10% to nearly 30%” drop in service academy applications since last year. This year, the Air Force Academy was down 28% in applications since 2021. The Naval Academy was down 20% since last year, with the West Point class of 2026’s applicants was lower by 10% from one year ago. In an article written by Victor Davis Hanson in July of this year (“How To Erode the World’s Greatest Military”), he starts by stating: “The U.S. Army has met only 40% of its 2022 recruiting goals.” While officials, especially at the academies, point to COVID restrictions as a top reason for the lower applicant numbers, Dr. Hanson’s assessment suggests otherwise. He states:
Current analysis of the recruiting crisis reveals what almost any observer would have predicted a year earlier from the haughty virtue signaling of Austin and Milley: traditional military families are not sending their sons and daughters into the ranks. It is not the danger of combat or the rigor of military life that families fear, but the suspicion their offspring will be targeted for ideological indoctrination and coercion that is either extraneous or antithetical to military efficacy.
That brings the discussion back to the low enrollment at VMI for this year’s entering class. In May of 2021, Superintendent Wins conveyed in a town hall meeting that “applicants and appointments remain strong.” According to data from the VMI website, the number of New Cadets/Rats matriculating since 2010 has averaged 506. The number stated by VMI’s Superintendent for this year is 375. That represents a 26% decrease.
Compare that to college enrollment in the spring semester, which was 4.7% lower than the previous year and down 9.4% over the two years of the pandemic, according to Military.com. In Virginia, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, “Virginia’s elite colleges are booming. Others are struggling to find students.” These institutions showed actual increases in enrollment last year — Virginia Tech (9%), George Mason (8%), Norfolk State (7%), UVA (4%), William & Mary (4%),” and James Madison (1%). VMI was at -4%.
The data suggests that COVID is a red herring. During COVID years 2020 and 2021, “enrollment” numbers, according to the VMI website, were 519 and 494, respectively. In the RTD article, it was reported that there was a mere 2% drop attributed to COVID in undergraduate enrollment from the fall of 2019 to the fall of 2020 at “Virginia’s public schools.” Additionally, a VMI news release reported that the COVID “Case & Operation Dashboard” was removed in May of this year. If COVID is such a major concern and an impact to enrollment, why was the information portal removed?
So, if it isn’t COVID or a national decrease in enrollment, what could cause such a dramatic decline? Events over the last couple of years clearly suggest the reason. It started with an assault on VMI’s character in 2020 with a letter coming from the Virginia governor’s office and Washington Post articles putting forth charges of structural racism and sexism. To the utter disappointment of hundreds of alumni, VMI officials failed to initiate an aggressive media campaign refuting such a troubling narrative. They even attempted to downplay all the media attacks with the VMI spokesman stating at one point that all the Washington Post articles were “blips on a radar screen.” Then there has been an assault on the VMI Experience thru the presentation/implementation of “inherently divisive concepts” and turning a military college that calls upon alumni and cadets alike to “don’t do ordinary” while moving towards a woke/cancel culture university.
Virginia voters just elected a new governor, to no small degree on the platform of pushing back against these “inherently divisive concepts” such as those grounded in Critical Race Theory (CRT), which in 2021 many parents suddenly realized were being taught in the Commonwealth’s school system. It is time for the Youngkin administration to take a much more aggressive approach in halting it at this small military college in the Shenandoah Valley that has left a large imprint on the world.
Carmen Villani graduated from VMI, class of 1976. Forrest Marion, class of ’80, contributed to the writing of the column.