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Military Academies

U.s. Coast Guard Academy, U.s. Merchant Marine Academy, U.s. Military AcademyU.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY

John Sherfesee

Thomas J. Haas

Lee C. Deighton

Dean W. Meyerson

U.S. Naval Academy Publications Office


The mission of the U.S. Air Force Academy, the nation's newest federal service academy, is to "inspire and develop outstanding young men and women to become Air Force officers with knowledge, character, and discipline; motivated to lead the world's greatest aerospace force in service to the nation." The academy is located just north of the city of Colorado Springs, Colorado. Its 18,000 acres border the eastern slopes of the Colorado Rocky Mountains. Since its establishment in 1954, the academy has graduated more than 34,000 cadets to serve in all of the U.S. military services. It is accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Institutions of Higher Education, and the chemistry, computer science, engineering, and management programs are accredited by their respective accrediting organizations.

The first class of 207 graduated in June 1959, while the first class to include women graduated in June 1980. Since then, the academy has had more than 2,600 women graduates. Congressional legislation limits enrollment to a maximum of 4,000 students as of the early twenty-first century. Cadets are appointed from all fifty states and from the U.S. territories, and must be between seventeen and twentytwo years of age on July 1 of the year of admission. Each must be a U.S. citizen, unmarried, and have no dependent children. They must be qualified academically, physically, and medically, and be nominated by a legal source as authorized in Title 10 of the U.S. Code. Those sources include a candidate's U.S. Representatives, U.S. Senators, the President of the United States, the Vice President of the United States, and several military-related sources for eligible individuals. To graduate, cadets must complete the entire four-year program.

The faculty comprises 560 full-time military and civilian members. Approximately 55 percent possess doctoral degrees. Fifteen percent of the faculty are women. Career Air Force officers provide most of the instruction, complemented by officers from the other services, officers from several allied nations, permanent civilian faculty, visiting professors from civilian institutions, and representatives from several federal governmental agencies. Many of the military faculty and some of the civilian faculty are academy graduates.

Legal Status

Since its inception, the academy's overall mission, goals, and objectives have not appreciably changed. That singularity of purpose–to graduate second lieutenants who are motivated and prepared for military careers in service to their country–has been a unifying force across the institution's history and structure. Various sections under Title 10 of the U.S. Code establish the basic guidelines for the functioning of the academy to include the instruction and preparation of the cadets for military service, the four-year course of study, and civilian oversight through its Board of Visitors.


The superintendent reports directly to the chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force. Through the chief of staff, the academy also responds to the secretary of the Air Force. The superintendent has the clear responsibility and authority to make decisions affecting the resources and functional integrity of the academy. The principal internal governing body is the academy board. The superintendent, through the board, exercises institutional decision-making authority. Board members are both experienced educators and senior officers in positions to institute changes in policies or practices across the academy.

Each fall, a conference, attended by the most senior Air Force general officers and the secretary of the Air Force, is held at the academy. This conference presents a unique opportunity to formally present and advocate specific programs to Air Force leaders. It also gives these leaders an opportunity to provide guidance or recommendations to the academy on its programs or practices.

Although not a formal governing body, the presidentially and congressionally appointed Board of Visitors is the academy's primary external review group. This board, which reports directly to the president of the United States, is chartered to review policies and protect the integrity of the institution, including its resources. The inclusion of two professional educators on this board, which also contains academy graduates, ensures a well-informed basis for institutional oversight and advocacy.


The academy offers a four-year undergraduate curriculum of academic, leadership, and military training; physical education; athletics; and aviation courses. The total academic curriculum provides cadets with a solid foundation appropriate to an Air Force career and the activities of a responsible American citizen. A core curriculum provides the common body of knowledge that prepares all cadets for the Air Force profession. The academic core consists of courses in basic sciences, engineering, humanities, and social sciences. Other core requirements include military strategic studies and physical education courses.

The academy offers thirty academic majors: aeronautical engineering, astronautical engineering, basic sciences, behavioral sciences, biology, chemistry, civil engineering, computer engineering, computer science, economics, electrical engineering, English, engineering mechanics, environmental engineering, foreign area studies, general engineering, geography, history, humanities, legal studies, management, mathematical sciences, mechanical engineering, meteorology, military strategic studies, operations research, physics, political science, space operations, and social sciences. Minors in foreign language and philosophy are also offered. All cadets must have a major and may choose their courses from the more than 500 offered each year.

The Air Force Academy ranked second in the United States in the 2001 U.S. News and World Report ranking of top aeronautics and astronautics programs, behind Embry Riddle Aeronautical University. It tied for sixth place in the 2001 U.S. News and World Report ranking of best undergraduate engineering programs in schools without Ph.D. programs, and it was ranked the fourth-best overall academic experience for undergraduates by Princeton Review's 2001 "Best 331 Ranking," placing just behind Princeton, Amherst, and Harvard. The academy was also named a Truman Scholarship Honor Institution for 2001. Only four or five colleges and universities are selected for this honor each year, and only thirty have been selected in the history of the award, which is based upon academics, leadership qualities, public service, and positive influence upon the changing face of higher education.

Other honors include being named one of sixteen Leadership Institutions by the American Association of Colleges and Universities' Greater Expectations Initiative Consortium on Quality Education, and the receipt of a Pioneer Award at the Fourth Annual Conference on Ubiquitous Computing, sponsored by Educause. The Pioneer Award was presented to seven higher education institutions that made early commitments toward offering students access to technology.

Cadet Development

The academy program of cadet development rests on four conceptual pillars: professional military training, academics, athletics, and character development. The military training program develops the techniques and attributes of successful leadership. The goal of this multidimensional program is to develop the knowledge, skills, values, and behavior patterns required to be an effective Air Force officer. The academic program is designed to provide cadets with a broad, high-quality education at the undergraduate level. Since the academy's origin, it has sought to produce graduates with the breadth and ability to represent the Air Force in academic settings and with the general public.

The objective of the physical development program is to develop good physical conditioning, as well as to foster traits of teamwork, courage, aggressiveness, self-confidence, and an intense desire to win–all of which are essential to a military officer. While at the academy, every cadet takes at least six semester hours of physical education courses. In addition, cadets must participate in intramural or intercollegiate sports throughout the academic year.

While good character is important in most professions, it is vital to the military officer. Character includes ethical behavior, respect for human dignity, and a sense of honor that transcends self-interest. The character development program fosters development of these characteristics and ensures they also are reflected in the other pillars. This program focuses on the academy's core values of "Integrity First, Service Before Self, and Excellence in All We Do." The balanced emphasis on the four pillars of cadet development sets the academy apart from most of the approximately 3,800 institutions of higher education in the United States.

Upon graduation, a cadet receives a bachelor of science degree and a reserve commission as an active-duty second lieutenant. Graduates are required to serve at least five years in the Air Force or, for a very few graduates, in one of the other armed services. The excellent education graduates receive is reflected in the number of prestigious postgraduate scholarships and fellowships they have been awarded. Cadets have won more than 1,900 of these prestigious awards (as of 2001), including thirty-two Rhodes scholarships, nine Truman scholarships, and five Marshall scholarships.

To further motivate academic excellence, the academy has a graduate program that annually allows approximately twenty selected cadets to attend advanced degree programs immediately after graduation at schools around the country. This program prepares them for a possible future assignment as a faculty member. Additionally, the National Competitive Scholarship Program allows approximately twenty cadets to attend prestigious international and national graduate schools for advanced educational opportunities, and up to 3 percent of each graduating class are allowed to attend medical school, .5 percent are allowed to attend dental school, and .5 percent are allowed to attend nursing school.


U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY. 2002. <www.usafa.af.mil>.


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