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NMMI regents consider cadet retention; In discussing enrollment, official says Institute not comparable to other schools

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NMMI Superintendent Maj. Gen. Jerry Grizzle, shown leaving the Friday Board of Regents meeting, says many people nationwide wrongly consider military schools to be reform schools, a misperception that can affect recruiting and retention efforts. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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New Mexico Military Institute officials think they have a good understanding of all the reasons why cadets stay and why they don’t, NMMI staff told its Board of Regents at a Friday morning meeting.

“We track them all. We understand them all,” Chief of Staff Col. David West said after the meeting.
Both he and Maj. Gen. Jerry Grizzle, NMMI superintendent, told regents that the Institute has all sorts of data that tracks what happens to every cadet, not only from the start and end of each semester, but between semesters as well, should they decide not to return. The discussion occurred as part of an ongoing conversation about the parameters for dismissing cadets and the way that regents want to view data.
During this and previous meetings, some regents have expressed an interest in knowing all the reasons why cadets don’t return, with a long-term goal of keeping more qualified students enrolled.
Regent Stirling Spencer summarized why the definitions and policies matter to decision-makers.
“I think that … all this comes about, though, in filling beds (without sacrificing quality of cadet),” he said, “and, No. 2, retaining what we can so we can fill leadership positions.”
Data from 1991 to 2016 shared in a NMMI publication dated winter 2016-17 indicates that 49.49 percent of all cadets, both high school students and junior college students, continued on after two semesters. By the end of four semesters, or about two years, only 18.19 percent were still enrolled. For high school students only, 54.45 percent were retained for two semesters and 29.75 percent for four semesters. The percent continuing on after six semesters, or three years, was 13.41 percent.
Those numbers might seem low to outsiders, but NMMI leadership say that is because people are comparing the Institute to other schools when, they contend, their program is unique.
“Who do you compare us with?” West asked. “You really can’t. For one thing, we are a lot more restrictive than other schools.”
West and Grizzle said that strong academic performers can be dismissed either for a single prohibited act, such as distributing or using alcohol or drugs, even after age 21, or for an accumulation of minor demerits for such things as not keeping their rooms clean. The other extreme is also true. Some cadets with perfect comportment records are dismissed for poor academic performances.
The other known reasons for attrition include those that show cadets are succeeding, they said. Some cadets leave due to early graduations or transfer to four-year degree programs.
Attrition also occurs because of cadets’ or parents’ unhappiness with the school experience, changes in life situations, medical or health reasons, financial difficulties and athletes entering with the expectation that they will play or start on teams and leaving if they don’t.
West also said that some alumni might think that attrition has increased a lot over past years, when what might be different is how the Institute tracks or reports the information.
Attrition issues dovetailed with another topic discussed at the meeting, the mission of the Institute.
Brig. Gen. Douglas Murray said that, in the process of developing a new vision statement, leadership realized how many misperceptions exist about the Institute.
“There is just a misunderstanding of what we are all about,” he said. “We are not a reform school. We are not a military recruiting program, not a service academy and not an elite program for the rich.”
He said that the Institute exists for the purpose of instilling leadership abilities and knowledge to high school and junior college students, while using military-type structures and programs to do so.
Grizzle said that military schools nationally are assumed by many to be a place for troubled kids.
“That is what nationwide military schools are known for: It is a reform school,” he said. “If you are a bad kid, you get sent there.”
Grizzle said NMMI administrators are developing even more ways to use social media, websites, in-person meetings and other means to communicate the new vision statement and the purpose of the Institute to employees, current cadets, potential recruits, parents and the public.
Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 310, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.

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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.