The Army last month stopped accepting felons and recent drug abusers into its ranks as the nation's economic downturn helped its recruiting...

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WASHINGTON — The Army last month stopped accepting felons and recent drug abusers into its ranks as the nation’s economic downturn helped its recruiting, allowing it to reverse a decline in recruiting standards that had alarmed some officers.

While shunning those with criminal backgrounds, the Army also is attracting better-educated recruits. It is on track this year to meet, for the first time since 2004, the Pentagon’s goal of ensuring that 90 percent of recruits have high-school diplomas.

The developments mark a welcome turnaround for the Army, which has the military’s biggest annual recruiting quota and had in recent years issued more waivers for recruits with criminal records. That, coupled with unprecedented strains from repeated deployments, led some senior officers to voice concerns that wartime pressures threatened to break the all-volunteer force.

Now, though, rising unemployment, security gains in Iraq and other factors have helped make military service more attractive and have allowed recruiters to be more choosy, according to military officials and Pentagon data.

Among the other military branches, the Marine Corps saw some increase in the number of recruits with low test scores, but even so, the service remained within Pentagon guidelines. The Air Force and the Navy have been trimming personnel.

Brig. Gen. Joseph Anderson, deputy commander of the U.S. Army Recruiting Command, said, “We are not even going to consider” applicants who test positive for drugs or alcohol, or have adult felony convictions such as assault, arson and robbery.

Previously, Army recruits had to wait six months — and before that, just 45 days — to reapply after failing a drug test, and some felons could apply for waivers, Army officials said. Every day, the Army processed eight to 10 requests for such drug and felony waivers, Anderson said.

At the same time, recruiters are being more selective on educational standards. Among active-duty Army recruits through March this fiscal year, 93 percent had high-school diplomas, compared with 83 percent for 2008 and 79 percent for 2007.