Many state education leaders are asking the Department of Defense for a better picture of how their students are faring when choosing to serve in the military. The move could be a win-win for the states, who want to prepare students for the best career paths, and the military branches, who keep falling short on recruiting goals.

“As state leaders, we are dedicated to ensuring all students leave high school ready for success in college or careers, and we believe that serving our country is one viable pathway a student might choose to pursue,” wrote more than half the country’s education leaders recently in a letter to the Defense Department.

“Unfortunately, the lack of standardized and timely data on military enlistment and persistence makes it almost impossible for states to consider military service as a successful post-high school outcome and to confirm if students were successfully prepared to serve.”

The Data Quality Campaign, a national nonprofit organization advocating for the use of data to improve student outcomes, noted that “when an ambitious student chooses the path of serving their nation, state education systems ought to have the resources to understand how well they fare in that chosen path and how they can support other students to do the same.”

It isn’t the first time school districts have attempted to gather information on how well their students were doing in the military. After the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015, 10 states planned to use military service as one of their indicators of student success. Lacking an effective way to collect that data, that plan fell by the wayside.

But this time, state education leaders are proposing the development of a data-sharing agreement enabling any state to partner with the Pentagon to add state-specific enlistment and service data into their respective longitudinal data systems.

“Allowing state education agencies to connect their data with military enlistment information would open the door for states to consider military service as a successful post-high school outcome. This could lead to an increased number of the 3.7 million high school graduates each year considering the military as a viable career option.”

This would be welcome news for the U.S. armed forces facing recruiting challenges.

As the Wall Street Journal reports, last year the Army “had its toughest recruiting year since the advent of the all-volunteer military in 1973 and missed its goal by 25 percent. This year, it expects to end up 15,000 short of its target of 65,000 recruits.” Similarly, the Navy and Air Force fell short this fiscal year. Only the Marine Corps, the smallest of the military services, met its recruiting goal for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30.

Just how severe the recruiting crisis has been over the last several years is underscored by an Army decision in 2022 to dump the mandate for recruits to have a high school diploma or GED certificate. A far better approach would be for the armed services and states to share their data, allowing states to demonstrate to students the value of graduating from high school and a possible career in the military.

Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth is plain-spoken about the severity of the recruiting deficit. “The number-one priority, in my mind, for this year … is fixing our recruiting problem,” she said.

The military has taken some direct and costly steps to attract talent — from high-priced Super Bowl ads to enlistment bonuses to loosened standards — with little success. It may be this proposal from education leaders, however, that helps fill the ranks.