The U.S. Coast Guard Academy is an institution of higher education designed to produce trained officers for the Coast Guard. Modeled after the military academies, the Coast Guard Academy has an enrollment of 1,000 cadets, graduating 200 cadets a year with bachelor of science degrees. Tuition is free— cadets are paid a salary—and there are no graduate programs. All alumni enter the Coast Guard for at least 5 years. About 80% undertake postgraduate education at service schools and other institutions of higher learning with financial support from the Coast Guard, and 85% continue as Coast Guard officers after their required tour.
The Treasury Department's Revenue Cutter Service, a precursor to the Coast Guard, recognized it needed better trained officers and set up a school of instruction in 1876. Using a sailing vessel known as a revenue cutter for a campus, the school provided a free 2-year apprenticeship for 5 to 10 cadets per class, with academic lectures by one professor. A third year of instruction was added in 1903. The school's base in 1910 became Fort Trumbull, near New London, Connecticut, where facilities from an old army fort supplemented the cutter. With the 1915 merger of the Revenue Cutter Service and the Life Saving Service into the Coast Guard, it became the Coast Guard Academy.
The academy moved to its present location in New London in 1932, with the opening of Hamilton Hall for administration and classes and with Chase Hall replacing the cutter as a dormitory. By 1941, the academy provided an accredited 4-year engineering bachelor's degree, taught largely by Coast Guard officers on temporary assignment. During World War II, the Candidate for Reserve Commission program trained 200 officers a month.
The academy faced a major crisis in the 1950s, with its very existence in question, as senior Coast Guard officials were dismayed that so many cadets were primarily interested in an accredited engineering degree, which they could quickly parlay into high-paying civilian jobs. Indeed, only 30% of entering students graduated. The solution was to restructure the cadet experience in close accord with West Point and the other military academies, bringing in younger Coast Guard officers to provide role models and closely controlled training. The Cadet Corps was doubled in size to 1,000 students and reorganized in terms of companies. Cadets stay in the same company from their days as swabs (new freshman) until their first-year experience, when they have significant leadership responsibilities. The result was 4 years of highly regimented and tightly scheduled daily routines starting at reveille at 6 a.m., with strict enforcement of numerous regulations and restriction to campus during the week. Cut off from old habits and surroundings, and under intense psychological pressure from upperclassmen, many swabs dropped out. The majority accepted the harassment to prove their manhood. The announced goal was to develop leaders, while the implicit goal was to internalize acceptance of a rigid hierarchical command structure, which was considered essential in dealing with emergency situations such as rescues at sea.
At the same time, academics were restructured to bring in a strong academic dean and to create the opportunity to major in a field. Of the 66 faculty in 1961, only 4 had doctorates, so the reforms called for sharply upgrading faculty credentials. More civilians were hired, and less use was made of temporary Coast Guard officers as teachers. Professional courses, such as training for navigation, rescue operations, gunnery, and seamanship, were increasingly taken out of the academic curriculum and put into summer programs. Facilities were expanded in the 1960s and 1970s. Specialized facilities include competitive sailing and rowing facilities, and most famously, the tall ship Eagle, which is used for numerous training exercises in seamanship.
Unlike the military academies, where members of Congress nominate recruits, the academy reached out to a national audience with admission based on high school performance and tests. As college tuition had soared around the country, the attractiveness of the free tuition—as well as guaranteed good jobs for graduates—made admission more and more competitive, especially to prospective students along the East Coast. Ninety percent of those admitted rank in the top 10% of their high school class. Surveys of cadets showed that they had a very negative opinion of the dormitory facilities, the mess halls, the library, and the city of New London. Like cadets at the other military academies, the students are conservative politically, study intensively, seldom use drugs, interact often with their professors, and score at the bottom of American colleges in reporting a “happy” undergraduate experience. They undergo a rigorous core curriculum for the first 2 years, emphasizing engineering, mathematics, and science. A few electives are allowed to upperclassmen, whose preferred majors include business management, civil engineering, and government.
During World War II, the academy had an 8-week training program for officers of the women's auxiliary, the SPARS (whose name is an acronym for the Coast Guard motto Semper Paratus and its English translation, Always Ready). Women were first admitted as cadets in 1975 and have experienced more acceptance than have women at the traditional military academies. Women now constitute 27% of the academy's cadets. Racial integration was imposed by Washington in the 1970s and has proceeded relatively smoothly compared with other services and the other academies. Sports are heavily emphasized, with all cadets required to participate in intramural or intercollegiate teams.
The Coast Guard ethos is not primarily a militaristic, combat-oriented ethos as typified by West Point. Since the Coast Guard is part of the Navy in wartime, it does have a military history, but a more typical hero is Lieutenant D. H. Jarvis who led a 1,500-mile expedition across the frozen Arctic Ocean in 1897–1898 to rescue marooned whalers. Many, if not most, of the cadets are attracted by the humanitarian dimension of lifesaving, as well as the promise of frequent action in extreme circumstances. Since the Coast Guard was moved from the Department of Transportation to the Department of Homeland Security after 9/11, the defense of the coastline against terrorists and drug smugglers has become a much higher priority. The rescue mission remains important, and recently the environmental protection mission has soared in importance, as typified by the Coast Guard taking charge of the federal response to the Gulf oil spill of 2010. Environmental and humanitarian dimensions attract different types of cadets, especially women.
Until 2005, all new graduates went to sea, serving on the cutters that provided the main mission for the Coast Guard. Recently, however, some graduates are never sent to sea and are assigned instead to aviation or ground-based units. The crowded 120-acre campus on the Thames River is shared with the Coast Guard's Officer Candidate School and Leadership Development Center, which provides on-campus and online training to permanent Coast Guard personnel.
See also Coast Guard, U.S.; Training, Coast Guard Officers; U.S. Naval Academy