I am wondering if part of the ARRL's "hidden agenda" might be related to advertising? An increase in new amateurs could potentially have a direct relation to the number of plastic radios sold by the big three. As long as digital and sideband modes are licensed in the privileged sub-bands, the radios will sell, AM is of course not a concern to the advertisers. As to the age group of new licensees, I have seen both middle aged folks and younger folks become licensed at the VE sessions. We recently had a group of boy scouts test for technician at our VE session, and several opted to try for general right after passing the tech. They came very close to passing, as their studies covered many of the theory and regulation issues in the question pool. They were excited about coming back soon and upgrading. Study and test is the way to do it, such that they are armed with the knowledge appropriate to operate properly with the new privileges. There is absolutely no need, and no benefit, to offering the new privileges without the study and validation through the testing process. If scouts in high school can do it, there is nothing wrong with the process as it stands today.