Pay for Diversity: Most Black Women Ever Graduate USMA

A record number of African American women recently graduated from West Point, the United States Military Academy in New York.

This was lauded as a historical accomplishment in many major news venues:

Black women are set to make military history on Saturday, as the West Point military academy graduates its class of 2019 with its highest-ever number of female African American cadets.

Among the more than 200 female cadets in the 2019 graduating class, 34 were black women, the largest number of African American female graduates in the academy’s history.

And in other outlets:

Jabreal Arrington told “Nightly News” it was “overwhelming” to be a part of such a historic moment.

“To see all of our sisters, us just standing there in solidarity,” she said of the photo.”

U.S. Military Academy spokesman Francis DeMaro said last year’s class had 27 African American female graduates.

And in various social media:


This is wonderful progress. Congratulations to the new Female African-American (or should it be African-American Female?) 2LTs!  Graduating the United States Military Academy is no mean feat, whether with a degree in Electrical Engineering or Kinesiology. It’s an arduous 4-year pain-in-the-neck, and presumably this shows more acceptance of African Americans in our nation’s Army.

But this leads to the next question: Beyond the effusive headlines, is this increase in female Black graduates a good thing for the Army? The articles’ tones seem to make it so, but on what basis? We analyze this based on the class data for 2019.


While it should go unsaid, this analysis is of the group statistics, and not of any particular individual graduate. It is also intended to provide perspective on the effects and costs of the policies and practices promulgated by West Point leadership over over the last 5-10 years, which tilted the focus of the Academy away from graduating the best leaders for troops, and toward politically correct and more athletically inclined class mixes.

Additionally, the dataset obtained for 2019 was obtained in early 2018, indicating that only 2-3 years of grades were included. Without the updated dataset, we also don’t know which of the Black females in the class profile actually graduated, or with what grades, so none of the profiles can be conclusively said to represent any one graduate. But we can make a good guess.


In previous posts, we noted that Black West Pointers tend to have lower test scores, GPAs, and Graduation rates than other races. So the announcement that the Academy has graduated “the most African American Females ever” was made, we naturally wondered at what cost this accomplishment was obtained. Fortunately, with our class admissions and attrition data, we can provide an estimate.


Using the data provided for the class of 2019 , we know that Blacks tend to be admitted with lower test scores than Whites and Asians, have lower grades, and tend to attrit at higher rates.

We wonder:

  1. Does this also hold true for the class of 2019, and specifically the African American females?
  2. What was the opportunity cost of the admissions policies that led to this?

Using our 2019 dataset, and creating an additional variable of a Race_Sex_cd, which is the Race+Sex code – so for example, a White Male would be coded as “WM” – we can slice out the relevant statistics for all race/sex groups.

Test Scores and Grades

The averages for SATs and GPAs are shown below, filtered for only Attendees of the Academy. Excel’s ugly conditional formatting indicates high->low as Green->Red.

score_grade 2019

Reminder: CQPA is the cumulative quality point average, or a normalized average of all classes. The Performance Scores (Academic, Military, and Physical) are for all of the program areas. Race / Sex codes are assumed to be A:Asian, B:Black, H:Hispanic, N:Native American, O:Other, W:White, and F:Female, M:Male; so an AM would signify an Asian Male.

While averages often don’t tell the whole story, they are representative of what we should expect from the groups. In this case, the 2400-pt scale sum test scores for the admitted Black females was 150-190 points less than their white counterparts (male or female), and 280 points less than their Asian counterparts. These represent the differences between, roughly, the 74th, 88th, and 92nd percentiles of the test. The CQPAs of the African American females were, at the time the dataset was recorded, at 2.59, a full .5 points less than their White or Asian female counterparts. This is in line with our Diversity As Strength post’s findings.

Graduation Rates

We also note that the news stories say that 34 Black women graduated, but the tweet indicates 32. We’ll use 34 for purposes of our calculations. The dataset indicates that 53 attended the Academy for some length of time. This works out to a 34/53 = 64% graduation rate. In our Diversity post, we showed that the relative separation rates are:

separation table

So a 64% graduation rate is a bit less than the 68% (100% minus 32% above) for the overall B classes of 2010-2017, but otherwise right in line with historicals.

We know that USMA needed to matriculate 53 Black women to graduate 34. What would this have looked like for other races, according to the attrition averages? We divide the number of graduates by graduation rates (in this case 64% for Black women), to arrive at the hypothetical number of required matriculating cadets for White and Asian groups from the 2010-2017 graduation rate averages.

grad rates.PNG

We see that in terms of costs of this accomplishment, USMA would have only needed to recruit matriculate 40 Asian cadets, or 43 White cadets, instead of the 53 Black cadets actually matriculated, and would have gotten cadets of – if the QPAs at USMA mean anything –  higher quality.

Those extra 10-13 cadets were not only recruited to fail, which is a terrible and dishonest thing to do to teenagers, but also consumed considerable resources until they left the program. What benefit did the Nation get for that cost?

Did USMA have the opportunity to admit White and Asian cadets of the correct quality? Yes, it did.


So we see that the Diversity – or, let’s call them Affirmative Action – policies of West Point, with taxpayer dollars, are being used to:

  1. Recruit and matriculate cadets with known and significantly lower-than-average probabilities of graduating
  2. Support cadets with known and significantly worse performance than most other groups
  3. Presumably, and again if the West Point curriculum scoring means anything, support worse performance in officers after graduation in the Army. 

So why exactly are we celebrating this historical waste of time, money, and effort again? What are the benefits to recruiting and failing more cadets, and foregoing bringing in young officers who would likely succeed handily?

LTC Heffington seems to be correct again that LTG Caslen’s West Point has lost its focus on quality leadership, and is doing no favors to the Army beyond diversity photo ops.

Factual corrections and thoughtful criticism are welcome.

Update: A mod at Reddit helpfully pointed out that we didn’t consider whether cost is born by the Cadets if they fail to graduate. While a short search didn’t yield official documentation on this policy, we’ll assume it’s true as stated – specifically, that if a cadet voluntarily drops out after 2 years, he has to repay for the cost of the education to date. This leaves a couple possibilities for those cadets admitted who are, as stated in our post, unqualified:

  1. They drop out before completing two years, with no penalty. Cost is still born by the taxpayers for admitting the less-qualified cadets. The matriculation yield calculations above are unchanged; you still have to recruit far more matriculating cadets for every graduated cadet for the diversity admits. Still costly.
  2. They drop out after completing two years, with the payback / penalty. Cost may be mostly or all born by the cadet (we don’t know what the repayment plans are). This then becomes very immoral. It seems that recruiting underqualified cadets and knowing that they’ll fail after a couple years owing tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars and wrecking their lives before age 22, so that generals can get photo-ops of their other classmates, should be a fire-able offense. It’s certainly not helping the Army or the cadets.

6 thoughts on “Pay for Diversity: Most Black Women Ever Graduate USMA”

  1. Thank you for sharing your analysis. From one academic to another, I would recommend that you add a section discussing the strengths and weaknesses of your research method and design. There are a couple of weaknesses with your study that I would like to highlight. First, I am not sure if SAT scores are accurate predictors of a cadet’s future performance at the Academy. The popular book, Grit, seems to argue against this. Additionally, the fact the admission’s process looks at a range of factors beyond the SAT score would indicate the same. Second, your study heavily relies on the QPA as a predictor of success in the Army. Additionally, the study failed to define what Army success actually looks like. Is it OER ratings, number of promotions, years of service, or something else? Without clarifying this part of your research, your conclusions seem to be based more on your opinion and not data. Lastly, your quantitative research method overlooks the lived experience of cadets. As a graduate, my learning experience at the Academy went beyond the classroom, and those experiences impacted my military and professional performance. And when dealing with matters of race and gender, the lived experience of individuals is a significant factor. I would argue that women cadets “experience” the Academy definitely than their male counterparts. Your analysis ignores this, and this is also a significant weakness in your study. Kudos for taking the time to do this work. GABN!

    • Thanks for the thoughtful reply and suggestions. Since our dataset contained neither ‘grit’ nor ‘lived experience’ data points, and test scores are generally accepted as being most predictive of overall outcomes, we chose to go with the quantitative approach. We do agree that there are probably some points at which, the aptitude threshold for a position having been exceeded, other character traits make up the difference. But the question before us is not whether some people with lower scores can succeed; it is whether the Army is selecting the overall best candidates it can for the roles, and if not, why not. We’ll be happy to address these points in a future post.

      And yes, beat ’em!

  2. Curious why you chose to only compare BFs to other females in most of your data? I think it is worth an entire article to look at why women outperform men in every category except N….often by a lot. It would be helpful to highlight this data when old grads write nasty notes about the high number of females in leadership positions – it’s clear here that women outperform their male counterparts in every race category except A. I would also be interested in statistical significance over the years – a grad rate of 64% compared to the average 68%, especially for such low numbers, seems to be right in the ballpark.

      • Thanks! I wonder if it would be worth looking at performance characteristics as minority group is added. For instance, was women’s performance overall lower in the early years of their attendance at the academy, then it normalized (then excelled?). I can imagine it’s hard to turn the corps into a diverse group that represents the general public – and the transition isn’t great for anyone. But maybe worth it in the long run, if other minority groups perform like the women have, and eventually top every performance category there is.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: