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Campus to boot camp: more college grads enlisting

From Jennifer Rizzo, CNN
  • More college graduates trying to get into military
  • Economy and benefits large part of the reason
  • Military likes having older potential recruits

Columbus, Ohio (CNN) -- A few years out of college and without a career, 25-year-old Ben Harris found himself in an Army recruiting station in Ohio, enlisting in the military.

"Have you ever been processed for the United States military before?" the recruiting station commander asked Harris. "Are you married?" "Got any children?" "Have you ever been a member of an ROTC?"

Harris is in the final stages of enlisting. All of his paperwork is complete.

"Now once you pass the physical, are you ready to join the United States Army?," the sergeant asked. "Yes sir," the young man replied.

Harris is working at a fast-food restaurant and living at home with his parents -- but that wasn't always his plan.

In 2008, at the start of the recession and amid sky-high unemployment, Harris graduated from Ohio State University. He wanted to work for the National Park Service. But after applying for over 100 jobs, he still had no offers. With a college degree in political science and communications, Ben didn't think the job market would be so tough.

"I've even tried to apply at local banks, just as a basic teller. And because I haven't been given the experience of anything more than handling a restaurant cash register, I can't even get those jobs right now in this market," he told CNN.

So Harris began thinking about the military.

"It offers so many more opportunities than to just continue struggling," he explained. "[The military] offers something I can feel good about, serving my country. The benefits it would give me back are further education in the fields I really want to try to get into."

Nearly 6,000 graduates enlisted in the Army last year -- 2,000 more than just two years ago. The Air Force and Navy also saw increases.

Army Staff Sgt. Andrew Thatcher commands a recruiting station that covers the Ohio State University area. The recent influx in college grads can partially be attributed to the economy, he says, but military benefits such as school loan repayment also are attractive.

With an average recruiting age of 24 at his station, Thatcher says college grads bring more experience to the table than a typical 18-year-old recruit.

"They've dealt with a lot of the tools that the Army is using in their college class. They're more educated in those areas," said Thatcher.

More experience that the U.S. military can't ignore.