A federal panel will scrutinize how well the Air Force Institute of Technology and the Naval Postgraduate School meet the military’s need for advanced degrees, and at what cost to taxpayers.
The National Research Council of the National Academies recently interviewed Air Force leaders and others at Wright-Patterson as part of the nationwide, year-long study, set for completion by July.
The panel will study how well schools such as AFIT and the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., meet Defense Department needs in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and management, and the costs and benefits of the Defense Department education institutions, among other priorities.
Boosters hope the answers will dissuade budget cuts at the schools.
“One of the challenges for the schools is that need has not been documented as well as it should,” said Michael Gessel, Dayton Development Coalition vice president for federal programs.
U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, and chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces, backed the study in defense legislation last year.
As part of the congressionally driven review, the panel will research how well public and private schools’ graduate programs meet Defense Department graduate-level education, said Terry Jaggers, a National Research Council study director.
Todd Harrison, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington, said in an interview that post-graduate Defense Department schools are redundant in what they offer, which could be a case for consolidating AFIT and NPS.
“I think that’s a question that’s going to have to be answered,” he said. “Why couldn’t we combine them?”
AFIT Director and Chancellor Todd Stewart was optimistic about the school’s future, even in the midst of an upcoming second round of sequestration cuts set to hit in January or once Congress passes a final spending bill.
“What we did here at AFIT at Wright-Patterson is not readily available in civilian institutions,” Stewart said Monday. “We’re hopeful that we have in our discussions with these folks last week we’re able to improve their understanding of AFIT in general and the value it brings to the Department of Defense.”
AFIT has 480 military and civilian faculty and staff and around 800 students in-residence on the Wright-Patterson campus. The Air Force has another 2,500 graduate students at close to 400 civilian institutions.
Stewart said AFIT students pursue defense-related studies and classified research they often couldn’t pursue at a civilian university, such as a nuclear engineering degree specializing in nuclear weapons and the effects of a nuclear blast.
Harrison said while classified research may not be allowed on many civilian campuses, in the case of his alma mater, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, researchers could engage in classified research in labs near the campus.
At Wright-Patterson, post-graduate students are involved in cross-educational programs or research and activities at the Air Force Research Laboratory, the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, and the National Air and Space Intelligence Center, Stewart said.
“That would not be accessible to students at MIT, Stanford, or Michigan or wherever,” the retired Air Force two-star general said.
A study might recommend more students attend AFIT, he said, which is open to both military and civilian attendees. The school’s operating budget in past years has run in the range of around $185 million a year, Stewart said.
Like the rest of the military, AFIT could face additional spending cuts in January when a temporary spending bill runs out and automatic spending cuts of more than $50 billion hit the military.
Stewart said sequestration was manageable last year, but “if this were to be the new normal the next few years, then you’ve got a problem.”
“I’m obviously concerned about our ability to continue to deliver the value that we are,” he said. “Our challenge here along with the rest of the Department of Defense is to continue to do things cost effective and on target in the face of budget uncertainty. I think the value we have delivered to the Air Force over the years speaks for itself, so in that regard I am very optimistic.”
The partial federal government shutdown led AFIT to temporarily suspend classes for a few days this month until civilian instructors and staff members were back in the classroom and the office.