For years, candidates who entered the Air Force Academy from its Preparatory School graduated at lower rates than direct appointees. They also posted lower GPAs, higher drop-out rates and larger numbers of honor code violations, as reported by the Independent. ("A prep to protect," Nov. 13, 2013)
One reason was that admission requirements for the school — composed of prior enlisted personnel, athletes, and minorities, to enhance the cadet wing's diversity — were lower than for those entering the academy straight out of high school.
After raising those requirements last year, along with other changes, preppies posted the highest aggregate GPA in seven years, Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson said last week during a meeting with reporters.
She also said the class, which graduated to academy appointments in May, showed a 50 percent decline in students on academic probation.
Johnson credits those achievements to programs installed by former prep school superintendent Col. Kabrena Rodda, who beefed up academic rigor and embedded character messages within military training. Rodda's successor will continue along that path, Johnson says.
Johnson also stressed the renewed focus on teaching upperclassmen to "lead from the front," not just beat down lowerclassmen — inspire, not denigrate. One result: The academy saw its lowest attrition rate during basic training last year in 45 years, she says.
The academy is getting back to basics, she said, emphasizing the honor code (to not lie, cheat or steal or tolerate others who do) and helping cadets understand its meaning in the greater context of the Air Force.
She says the academy wants cadets to make their own choices instead of over-managing them. "If they own the solution to their experience here, they'll walk out feeling invested in it," she says.
To that end, the Center for Character and Leadership Development lies at the core of the academy's culture of commitment and climate of respect, she says. It's a new, $40 million facility, next to Cadet Chapel, that will be completed within a year. Meantime, the academy is providing character training for the larger Air Force, most notably at Malmstrom, F.E. Warren and Minot Air Force bases, where a cheating incident on training tests erupted several months ago; allegations were sustained against 79 officers.
Johnson says the academy devised programs for the bases and worked with Air Force leadership on addressing cultural elements that might have contributed to the problem.
At the academy itself, an investigation of 42 freshmen in connection with a March cheating incident on a chemistry lab report found 10 were in violation of the honor code; one person resigned. Johnson didn't say what punishment the 10 received.
To bring more cohesion to issues of diversity and the climate of inclusion, Johnson has realigned a dozen offices and programs into one civilian position, soon to be filled, that will report to her. Some priorities previously got overlooked, she says. "When 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' was repealed, we didn't follow up with as much sensitivity training as we have with other actions."
Johnson said she's trying harder to communicate with the community and parents, enhance awareness of sexual assault reporting and build the "warrior ethos" through athletic competition — all to prepare officers to be "the eyes and ears of the Department of Defense" through rapid global mobility, intelligence, surveillance, and global strike, command and control.
"We can't declare victory," she says, "but I can't help but feel hopeful that we're on the right track."