Air Force Will Now Consider Advanced Academic Degrees in Some Promotions

A U.S. Air Force officer celebrates her promotion with family.
A U.S. Air Force officer celebrates her promotion with family shortly after a ceremony that took place at the Air Force Memorial in Washington DC, May 30, 2016. (Air Na­tional Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Jonathan Young)

An airman's advanced academic degrees will now be considered as part of promotion to the ranks of major and lieutenant colonel, reversing a 2014 policy that kept that information hidden. The change is designed to help the service fill some jobs where it has faced a lack of qualified service members.

The new policy, which went into effect Jan. 1, is aimed at highlighting the academic prowess of applicants as tensions with China and Russia grow, Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall said in a Dec. 30 press release.

"To compete with China, Russia, or other potential threats, the Air and Space Forces must incorporate new technology more rapidly and effectively than our competitors," Kendall said in the release. "To do this effectively, we need leaders and supporting staff throughout the [Department of the Air Force ] at all levels who have deep expertise in emerging technologies and their applications to military operations."

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The service said the new policy means those advanced academic degrees "will be considered but will not be a requirement for, or a guarantor of, promotion."

The Air Force began hiding an airman's advanced academic degree during promotion boards in 2014 as an initiative to highlight job performance and challenge long-standing norms that those degrees were necessary to get promoted.

"We understand our Airmen are challenged every day to accomplish the mission with limited time, manpower and resources," then-Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III said when releasing the policy. "By eliminating these perceived expectations, we hope to remind our officers that job performance is what we value most and that we want them to have a life away from work."

The change comes as the Air Force has struggled to fill billets that require advanced academic degrees for science, technology, engineering and math -- otherwise known as STEM.

The Air Force Research Laboratory said in a press release this past August that the Air Force had reached its lowest rate of advanced degrees in its general officers "in more than 30 years" and added that there was "a 50% fill rate" for STEM billets.

"When you start looking at some of our near-peers like China, China has been pushing a lot of advanced academic degrees," Col. Daniel Gallton, chief of the science and engineering division at the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, said in the August release. "In the past, there was a big push for Airmen with technical degrees, and [that] hasn't gone by the wayside, but maybe that emphasis has decreased a little bit."

Kendall made clear that he doesn't want airmen simply padding their resumes with academic achievements to improve promotion chances.

"Officers should not pursue an advanced degree simply to impress a promotion board or to check a perceived box," Kendall said. "Advanced degrees should be chosen to meet personal and professional goals, with an appreciation of the value … the specific degree has to the Department of the Air Force."

-- Thomas Novelly can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.

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