In recent years, the United States Military Academy at West Point has seen a decline in the number of applicants and overall students. After extensive research into the reason for the decline, West Point officials discovered that the perception of the Academy had changed from a school to receive a pristine education to a military-focused college. This creates the core problem faced by the Academy in relation to African-American appliants: if the misconceptions about West Point Academy are not clarified, they could seriously affect the quality and quantity of potential African-American applicants. African-Americans only make up six percent of the Academy’s cadets. Our job was to find a way to communicate to African-Americans and increase the number of applicants and cadets that attend West Point. Our main strategy was a nation-wide tour named the “Honor and Duty Across the Country” that will stop in 10 distinct cities and visit local high schools. Our goal of the campaign was to increase African-American applicants to West Point Academy by 10 percent.
The United States Military Academy at West Point was established March 16, 1802. West Point is a four-year college located 50 miles north of New York City. The young men and women –referred to as cadets- that attend West Point are individuals interested in pursuing careers as military officers. Cadets enrolled at West Point are required to compete in intense physical challenges and activities as well as thrive within their classes. West Point is a very well respected regarding academic environment, ranking in the top five in terms of Rhodes, Truman and Marshall scholars (Kennedy). Upon graduation, cadets are promoted to second lieutenants and are required to serve on active duty for at least five years, with many choosing to stay on duty longer (Kennedy).
West Point is an extremely highly coveted college to be admitted into. On average, the school receives more than 10,000 applicants while it only accepts a little more than 1,200 of these young men and women. Of this number, on average, 1,000 cadets graduate with a Bachelor of Science or Bachelor of Arts degree. The school is predominantly males, with men making up more than 84 percent of the student population (Kennedy). Throughout the years, West Point’s statement has evolved, its most recent being “To educate, train, and inspire the Corps of Cadets so that each graduate is a commissioned leader of character committed to the values of Duty, Honor, Country and prepared for a career of professional excellence and service to the Nation as an officer in the United States Army.” (West Point)
Along with a shifting mission statement, West Point has also made changes to the way they brand themselves throughout the years. This shift is most noticeable in sports. Before 2005, the school’s name “West Point” was what was written on teams’ varsity uniforms. This logo has changed to say “Army” and was received by a mild backlash from the school’s alumni (Kennedy). One issue surrounding this shift was a perceived divide between the teams with the Army logo vs. other teams that had the West Point logo and that one group was not different or better than the other.
The first African-American to graduate from West Point was Henry O. Flipper in 1877. Flipper marked a key moment in the schools history, African-Americans are now key members of the student body making up six percent of West Point cadets (Kennedy). Unfortunately, the number of African-American applicants remains much lower than other members of different races. West Point, along with ROTC, is finding itself struggling to recruit African-Americans who are eligible to join them. According to SAT scores in 2006, only 2,784 African-American students would be able to qualify to attend West Point (Kennedy).
This presents a divide that recruiters for West Point are saying needs to be addressed. There have been African-American cadets in every graduating class at West Point since 1948, yet the percent of black male officers in 2005 stood at just 10 percent. In reference to the fact that the United States army is 23 percent African-American, director of admissions, Colonel Michael Jones said, “We need Army leadership that looks like the population, we need mentors for our soldiers.” (Kennedy).
In the past years, applicant numbers and attendance to the United States Military Academy at West Point has been on a steady decline. When the Director of Communications, Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Brian Tribus, investigated further into the problem a much more complicated issue arose than a simple decline in numbers. Over the past years, the image and awareness of the Academy among possible students and their parents has changed and research suggested that students and parents do not see the benefits of attending West Point (Keinan). Not only have overall attendance and applicants declined over the years, but minorities applying and attending the Academy have wavered off as well. Right now, the Academy is only six percent African-American, a number that does not mirror the 13.6 percent population in the United States. The situation we have to face is how to promote the Academy to more African-American target audiences and increase the number of African-American applicants and students at the Academy.
Currently, the Academy recruits applicants through different channels such as college fairs and campus visits. There is no specific campaign to reach out specifically to African-American students. Even though West Point is not like other colleges, the Academy uses the same tactics to recruit students as other schools.
If the misconceptions about West Point Academy are not clarified, they could seriously affect the quality and quantity of potential African-American applicants.
Goal and Objectives
Goal: To increase the number of African-American applicants to West Point Academy.
Objective #1: To increase the number of African-American middle school and High School cadets by 10 percent.
Strategy: 10 Week West Point “Honor and Duty Across the Country” Tour.
Tactics: Fitness challenges for the students that include rock walls, rope courses, and other activities; handing out brochures and freebies; signing kids up online for information requests; assembly speeches at schools and Boys and Girls Clubs.
Type: Impact, behavioral and informational
Objective #2: To increase the number of African-American high schoolers that take the SAT through the PSAT in order to be applicable to West Point by 5 percent.
Strategy: Ensure that schools have a PSAT program in place. Scholarships.
Tactics: Partner with Teach for America to create PSAT programs. Set up a scholarship program for students who show the ability to be accepted to West Point. Campaign through Facebook and other social media.
Type: Impact, behavioral
Objective #3: To become a presence at after-school programs geared toward leadership skills to encourage students to consider a career in the army or military.
Strategy: Partner with the Boys and Girls Club. Build a presence that targets confidence and strength in young adults.
Tactics: Once a month team building activities, leadership courses, fitness challenges, mentor programs and picnic events.
Objective #4: To change parents perception of West Point from a military school to an excellent academic program.
Strategy: Pre and post informational surveys.
Tactics: Positive videos, emails, personal letters, parent and cadet testimonials.
Type: Impact, attitudinal
Audience 1 (Primary): African-American ages 13-15 (8th grade to Sophomores in High School) reached through our “Honor and Duty Across the Country” Tour
Demographics/Psychographics: young, in need of direction, disciplined or willing, male and female, strong, athletic (but not specifically athlete), interested in military.
Messaging: school presence of West Point. High school “Honor and Duty Across the Country” tour where West Point visits to bring awareness and share what West Point has to offer.
We decided to segment high school students into two different focus groups because West Point has high standards in order to be accepted. We were afraid that high school juniors and seniors wouldn’t be applicable or too far behind in the application process to be eligible for West Point. Therefore, we decided to focus on early high school students to give them time needed to apply to West Point.
Audience 2 (Secondary): African-American 16-18 (Juniors and Seniors in High School) students (in both private & public schools)
Demographics/Psychographics: very young, undecided-need direction, easily influenced, male and female, athletic (but not specifically athlete), interested in military.
Messaging: direct, school presence of West Point traveling to do assemblies and have in-person interactions with students.
Older high school students are our secondary target audience because they may not have enough time to complete everything that is needed to apply to West Point. The “Honor and Duty Across the Country” tour will still go to their schools and reach out to them and make them consider transferring to West Point later in college, but the main audience for the tour are younger high school students.
Intervening: Guidance Counselors and Parents of African-American students.
Demographics/Psychographics: influential to students, insightful, older, male or female, nurturing, helpful, encouraging, past experience in military.
Messaging: direct and encouraging, share why West Point is better than an average school and builds a strong skill set outside of strictly military work.
Parents and guidance counselors are our intervening audience because the main problem faced by West Point is the changed perception of the school. Parents and guidance counselors are a huge factor for students when it comes to choosing a school. If we can reach out to the parents and counselors we can increase the number of African-American applicants to West Point.
“Honor and Duty Across the Country” Tour
The main strategy we will use to promote the Academy to more African Americans is a 10 city tour throughout the United States. The cities the tour will stop at are:
10 Cities to target
New York East
Los Angeles West
These cities were chosen because they have the highest African-American populations in the United States (Deshay). It also is convenient that the tour will be in every general region of the United States. In each city, the tour will stop at three local high schools and give a presentation during school assemblies and have challenging activities for students during lunch or during the assembly. The tour will also have giveaways to students who complete fitness challenges. There will be special activities like a rock wall to attract more students to the presentation. The tour will be in a new city each week starting in the mid-west region, then Los Angeles, south region, and finally the east region ending in West Point’s home state New York. There will be one main recruiter travelling each week to keep the message constant in each region. The main recruiter will be joined by regional recruiters to keep travel costs down. The tour will take place in the beginning of the school year, September through December, to successfully reach our secondary target audience, 16-18 year olds before or during their college application process.
In order to be accepted into West Point, high school students must complete the SAT. Unfortunately, there are thousands of students who do not complete it due to multiple factors. Time difficulties, or monetary issues are two major concerns for high school students when considering the SAT. In 2011, there were a total of 1,647,123 students who took the SAT. The number of African-American students who took the SAT was 215,816. This is only 13.1% of the total students who took the test (College). In order to give more African-Americans the chance to take the SAT and be eligible to apply to West Point, the Academy will sponsor 20 African-American students who show the characteristics and ability to apply to West Point. This will be conducted through an online sign-up process on the West Point website. This will be promoted through Facebook and other social media channels and at the booths during the “Honor and Duty Across the Country” tour. We have set aside $20,000 for the scholarship. Along with the SAT scholarship, we have set aside $4,200 for a PSAT programs at schools. The PSAT is a crucial step in preparation for the SAT and we want students to have a better opportunity to take the SAT.
After school programs
The “Honor and Duty Across the Country” tour will also target the local Boys and Girls Clubs in order to reach our primary target audiences. One day in each city will be spent at the Clubs and will have the same fitness challenges and giveaways as the high schools. We have decided to attach Boy and Girls Clubs to our tour because overall 28% of the Club is African-American. Also, 29 percent of students in Boys and Girls Clubs are children ages 11-15 (Facts). This allows us to reach more of our target audience through our 10 city tour. The Boys and Girls Club is respectable for their great programs and keeping kids in school. Since academics is West Point’s main concern, the Boys and Girls Club and West Point would be a good match. There is already a program in place for children of military personnel, this has been a great success for both the Boys and Girls Club and the US Military, but we want to reach out to more children with our tour.
The main problem in this study and for West Point is the declining number of applicants to the Academy. This problem can be rooted back to the issue of changed perceptions of the Academy. According to a survey conducted by the Artemis Group for West Point in 2008, 44% of parents would not consider having their children apply to West Point because of anti-war/military views. The Academy needs to change the outlook parents have from a military school to a school where their child can receive a great education. In order to do this, we will send out personal letters to parents, promotional videos and parent testimonials via snail mail and email to parents of students who signed up for the West Point mailing list. Parents are more likely to use email and snail mail than social media channels. Because of this, we believe this is the best way to reach the intervening audience of parents.
Although we cannot see how our campaign would work in real life, it is still possible to think about the different ways to see if our objectives were met. We made sure to make all of our objective measurable. For the first objective, we could see if there was an increase in African
American applicants in the years following our “Honor and Duty Across the Country” tour. As for parents perceptions, we could conduct a pre and post campaign survey to find out parents thoughts about West Point. For the survey, we would focus on whether parents viewed West Point as a military school, or a school for students to receive a great education.
“College Board.” College-Bound Seniors 2011. College Board, 2012. Web. 15 May 2012. <http://professionals.collegeboard.com/data-reports-research/sat/cb-seniors-2011>.
Deshay, Akiim. “African American Population.” Black African American Demographics Population. Black Demographics, 2009. Web. 15 May 2012. <http://www.blackdemographics.com/population.html>.
Facts and Figures.” Facts & Figures. Boys and Girls Club of America, 2011. Web. 15 May 2012. <http://www.bgca.org/whoweare/Pages/FactsFigures.aspx>.
Keinan, Anat. The Military Academy at West Point. Harvard Business School, 2 Nov. 2011.
Kennedy, Kelly. “West Point, ROTC Struggle to Recruit African-Americans.” Newslines The Army (2006). Web. <www.kellykennedy.net/westpointminority.pdf>.
“West Point – Home.” West Point – Home. US Army, 2012. Web. 15 May 2012. <http://www.westpoint.edu/SitePages/Home.aspx>.