Concerns About the USAFA AOG 2022 Survey

by Scott Dunphy, USAFA Class of 1994

The June 2022 issue of Checkpoints published some of the results of the recent survey of United States Air Force Academy (USAFA) alumni with the promise of publishing the full results later this summer. The survey achieved a very large sample size and confidence level, which is excellent and should make the result highly valuable. While the magazine put a positive spin on the results, I find them to be alarming and I’m concerned that the Association of Graduates (AOG) is completely missing the point. I’m writing this document as an open letter to the AOG in hopes that they will address these concerns.

The main focus of the issue is on “the six USAFA personas” – a survey question that asked respondents to describe themselves using one of six defined phrases. Here are the six personas and the survey results (Holmquist 17):

  • Actively Engaged 7%

  • Proud and Show It 26%

  • Inwardly Proud 47%

  • Not Valued by USAFA 7%

  • Lost Interest in USAFA 5%

  • At Odds With USAFA 8%

Reading the persona descriptors, and according to their own assessment, the top three personas are proud or positive results. The bottom three are not-proud or negative results. Checkpoints summarized these results by saying, “...those describing themselves as “actively engaged,” “proud and show it” and “inwardly proud” — constitut[ed] a whopping 80% of survey respondents.” (Holmquist 20) 

Is an 80% positive result really whopping? It may seem so compared to political statistics (i.e. approval ratings), but a more relevant comparison is needed to properly assess these results. None is provided in the issue, so we have to look elsewhere. Checkpoints did, however, provide a lead – the AOG conducted an alumni survey in 2006 (but they failed to compare any of the 2006 results to the 2022 results).

This survey also had a large sample and high confidence. While there is a lot of interesting information in the 2006 survey document, there is not an exact match to the Six Personas question in the 2022 survey. The closest match in the 2006 survey was, “How strongly do you identify with the Academy?” Here are the results of that question (Corona Research, Inc. 279):

  • Strongly Identify with Academy 60%

  • Moderately Identify with Academy 32%

  • Minimal or No Identification with Academy 6%

Note that these questions are about pride or identification with the current institution. Separate questions in both surveys (and in the many of the other surveys I reference below) ask about pride in the alumni’s degree from the institution. It’s important to try to keep these two topics separate, but it is challenging to do so due to differences in phrasing and perceptions.

92% of grads were proud of USAFA in 2006 compared to only 80% in 2022. I’d call that a whopping 12% drop! To reach that conclusion, I equated the strongly and moderately identify responses in the 2006 survey to the proud/positive responses in the 2022 survey. While these questions don’t perfectly correlate, it is clear there has been a significant decline in alumni pride in USAFA.

Perhaps this decline in pride is a product of our current times – fifteen years is three-quarters of a military career, after all. 

I searched alumni surveys from a wide range of colleges and universities looking for questions similar to the Six Personas question in recent surveys. Most of what I found was not directly comparable; more than five years old, only asked about pride in the alumni’s degree (not the institution), not US schools, for a specific college (e.g. nursing school) within a larger university or system, etc. During this search, I noticed that 90% pride or approval seems to be the norm and possibly the floor – with one exception that I will discuss later. I did find two recent surveys particularly worthy of comparison to the USAFA survey, California State University (CSU) and the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee (UWM).

Both of these surveys include graduate and post-graduate alumni, a category USAFA lacks, but the vast majority of respondents were undergraduate alums. Therefore, CSU and UWM results are good points of comparison for their recency, geographic diversity (east and west of USAFA), and question similarity.

The CSU system consists of 280 universities and colleges and Alumni Attitude Study surveyed 13 of them in 2018. These included Cal Poly Pomona and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo which are prestigious engineering schools. The results reported are an aggregate across all 13 schools. Perhaps the AOG would have the contacts and resources to acquire and analyze more detailed data and draw a closer comparison with the two polytechs? The CSU survey question that appears most comparable to the Six Personas is, “Which of the following describes your overall current opinion of the California State University?” Less than 10% of alumni responded with poor or fair and more than 90% responded with good or excellent (Alumni Attitude Study 31). CSU surveys from 2008 and 2012 from different sets of institutions in the CSU system yielded very similar results.

93% of University of Wisconsin Milwaukee (UWM) alumni rated their current opinion of UWM as good or great in their 2019 survey (UWM Alumni). US News and World Report ranks UWM at #156 in Top Public Schools and USAFA at #3 in the same list (you don’t want to know the top two schools!). I’m sure UWM alums have plenty of good reasons to love their alma mater, but it is not an elite school, like the service academies, and doesn’t maintain the high standards to which cadets are held. We would expect USAFA grads to express greater pride, not significantly less pride. 

USAFA survey results from 2006 were on par with CSU’s and UWM’s in 2018 and 2019 respectively. There does not appear to be a recent, downward trend in general collegiate alumni pride or approval of alma maters. We can’t rule out a steep decline between 2019 and 2022, but it seems unlikely, despite COVID and the current political climate.

The Academy always has its fair share of scandals and negative press – most recently an honor scandal. All the service academies have long histories of cheating scandals, so it is hard to believe that the 2021 USAFA honor scandal alone resulted in a 12% drop in alumni pride. Furthermore, the 2006 survey was only three years after the 2003 sexual assault scandal and it does not appear to show any impact from what was a much bigger scandal with broader implications and impacts.

The more I researched, the more I realized that the “whopping” 80% positive result was actually abysmal. So I searched for evidence to back up that perception and found a compelling case. I mentioned above that I found one exception to the 90% alumni approval norm. In March 2011, news broke that Penn State (#23 in Top Public Schools) assistant football coach, Jerry Sandusky, had sexually assaulted numerous young children that were on campus for sports programs. Head coach Joe Paterno and everyone in his chain of command, including the president of the university, knew about Sandusky’s illegal activities and protected him from discovery and prosecution. The Penn State Alumni Association began polling their alumni in May of 2012. Sandusky was tried and convicted in June of 2012. The association polled the alumni again in December of 2012 and each December through 2015. They asked, “How would you describe your overall feelings toward Penn State today?” and reported a total positive result (those responding ‘Very Positive’ or ‘Somewhat Positive’) of 82% in May of 2012 and 81% in December of 2012 (Penn State Alumni Association 4).

The level of positive feeling from USAFA grads toward our alma mater today is lower than that of Penn State grads immediately after their university was forever tainted by a series of heinous crimes against children and toleration of said crimes for the sake of winning football games. These results are alarming.

Checkpoints has an obligation to honestly report the results of the survey. To this point, they are either failing to do so or do not understand the results. I think it should be obvious to the AOG that these results are abysmal. It isn’t my job to research comparable results to the AOG 2022 survey, including previous AOG surveys, but it only took a few minutes of searching to convince me that there is a lot of cause for concern. Since this is a job the AOG should be doing, I have to wonder if they are completely missing the point. Lt Gen (Ret) Mike Gould reported survey results in his “From the CEO” column without substantive comment. The rest of the issue seemed to put a positive spin on the results (take a look at the cover). If the AOG is alarmed by the results, they certainly aren’t telling us.

Perhaps the lack of candor – from the AOG, from USAFA, from the DoD in general – is the cause of the decline in pride? 

Fellow grads, can we trust the AOG to continue to report the survey results? Will they spin them like they spun the disastrous retreat from Afghanistan in the December 2021 issue of Checkpoints? There are always heroes among our forces in harm’s way and it is right to highlight their actions, yet there was no mention that it took an epic failure of leadership to place them in jeopardy. Have you ever read an article critical of current military or civilian leadership in the magazine? That’s not the purpose of the publication, to be sure, but sometimes it’s called for. I’ve yet to see it.

I hope we can trust the AOG and I think we should give them a chance to do better and report frankly on the survey results. Immediately releasing the raw, full results (without names of respondents, of course) to AOG members would be a positive first step. This would allow us to discuss and debate and reach our own conclusions. (If anyone would like to engage in friendly, polite debate in the comments below, I’d welcome it.)

Works Cited

Alumni Attitude Study. The California State University, Results from the 2018 Alumni Attitude Study. 2018,

Corona Research, Inc. Member Survey: The Association of Graduates of the United States Air Force Academy - 2006. 2006,

Holmquist, Jeff, editor. “'Ask, Listen, Act' and 'You've Spoken.'” Checkpoints, no. June, 2022, pp. 16-23.

Penn State Alumni Association. “Alumni Opinion Survey Overview.” 2016, Accessed 18 June 2022.

UWM Alumni. “Alumni Attitude Survey Results.” Accessed 18 June 2022.


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