Job prospects amid the rolling hills and farms of northern Pennsylvania are slim, Ryker said. “My options are to work for the gas company or on a pig farm,” the dejected teen said in a telephone interview with the Associated Press.

Ryker and his family unknowingly ran into a policy the Department of Defense has that ranks graduates of traditional high schools as “Tier 1” and those from alternatives as “Tier 2” status. Tier 1 graduates now make up 99 percent of all recruits for all military branches, according to Pentagon spokeswoman Eileen Lainez. The secondary status includes virtual high school graduates and home schoolers, as well as those who’ve left high school and earned a GED or General Education Development certificate.

Lainez said the Department of Defense limits all branches of the military to accepting no more than 10 percent of recruits with what is known as an “alternate high school credential.”

Those who’ve opted out of the traditional educational system just don’t stick with military service, she said. That includes students from what she called “any computer-based, virtual-learning program.”

“Years of research and experience show recruits with a traditional high school diploma are more likely to complete their initial three years of service than their alternate credential-holding [Tier 2] peers,” Lainez said.

Data collected since 1988 show only 28 percent of graduates with traditional diplomas leave military service before their first three years in uniform, while those with non-traditional backgrounds have a 39 percent attrition rate, she said.

It comes down to money, because it costs $45,000 to replace someone who hasn’t met his or her full term, she said.

But some members of Congress and supporters of online schools say the Pentagon should reconsider, in particular given the military’s penchant for computerized weaponry and cyber warfare.

“We are dealing with new technology,” said Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., head of the House Armed Services subcommittee on personnel. “We just need to keep adapting.”