The Air Force Institute of Technology provides “benefits that outweigh” its costs because of the specialized defense-related graduate degrees and classified research at the post-graduate school at Wright-Patterson, a National Research Council of the National Academies study has found.
The future of AFIT has been in jeopardy in past rounds of military base closures, and it’s future could be uncertain with sequestration’s return on the horizon, but the findings of the independent, top scientific advisory organization on policy issues gives ammunition to keep the doors open, according to Michael Gessel, Dayton Development Coalition vice president of federal government programs in Washington, D.C.
“It would be nice if it could put the question to rest,” Gessel said. “In today’s climate, no mission is safe. There will always be questions raised about any mission, but this will be convincing evidence that AFIT does provide a valued service.”
The council study urged AFIT to report directly to the Air Force’s top general, rather than the Air Education and Training Command. The realignment in reporting authority would parallel the chain of command of the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., which answers directly to the Navy’s top admiral, the report noted.
The study found AFIT and NPS should broaden student populations at each with more Defense Department civilian employees, and expand the size of Ph.D. academic programs with a “wider range of courses and research experiences.”
The study of the Defense Department graduate degree programs also recommended the military strengthen its workforce’s competencies in science, technology, engineering, math and medicine graduate programs between civilian and military institutions; expand graduate education for civilian employees; support both AFIT and NPS research; and encourage AFIT and NPS to collaborate through partnerships and distance learning.
Todd Harrison, a defense budget analyst with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington, D.C., said in an email he could not comment on the NRC’s findings. But he said AFIT’s current cost per student per year is $117,000. In an email Wednesday, AFIT officials said calculating the cost per student is “a complicated issue and depends on a lot of assumptions. We don’t agree with that number on the cost per student.” The school did not provide an alternative estimate.
In 2013, the school had a budget of about $178 million, Dayton Daily News archives show. Today, AFIT has 169 military teaching and staff personnel, but is authorized up to 198, and 279 civilian employees. Last year, between 700 to 800 students attended on campus and another 2,500 students assigned to AFIT were enrolled at civilian institutions, most attending medical schools. About 33,000 military and civilian students have enrolled in 200 professional continuing education courses every year.
U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, chairman of the House Armed Services Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee, had asked for the study in the fiscal year 2013 National Defense Authorization Act.
“This independent study recognizes and reinforces the success of AFIT’s defense-focused education, research, and technological development,” Turner, R-Dayton, said in a statement.
U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Turner pushed for congressional approval to allow non-Defense Department students to attend the post-graduate school. AFIT began accepting those new students in 2012, and was authorized to sign up to 125 students in the first year.
“There is more that can be done to increase enrollment, and I look forward to using these findings to ensure we continue to strengthen AFIT and it’s important role in our national security,” Portman said in an email Wednesday.