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All They Can Be and a College Degree

All They Can Be and a College Degree

Army hopes to boost recruitment with proposal that would
expand its role in the education of its soldiers.

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army has been aware of and used distance learning on the higher education level for some time. But now, the Army has plans of using the technology to help sagging recruitment, giving new inductees a chance to be all they can be with a college degree.
Secretary of the Army Louis Calder last month unveiled a proposal in Miami that will allow buck privates to take college-level courses over the Internet. The soldiers will be able to earn two-year associate’s degrees during their initial four-year enlistment stint with the government picking up the tab for tuition, according to a story in The Washington Post.
“The Army has traditionally been a place of opportunity and now it is going to be a place where you learn while you serve in addition to being a place where you earn benefits and save money so you can keep learning when your service is completed,” Calder told the newspaper.
Facing competition from the a civilian job market that is booming as the result of a robust economy, the Army fell short of its fiscal 1999 recruiting goal by 8 percent — the largest shortfall by any branch of the U.S. Armed Forces. To stop the decline, the Army proposal would see that its 165,000 first-time soldiers have the free time and the computers to take online courses from accredited colleges and universities wherever the soldier is deployed.
The proposal is based on a partnership that already exists between branches of the Armed Forces and several of the nation’s colleges and universities. That partnership already offers college-level instruction at bases around the world and it includes both associate’s and bachelor’s degree programs. Credits are transferable within the system of affiliated colleges and currently, the Army pays for approximately 75 percent of the tuition.
While much of the current curriculum is related to a soldier’s military specialty, most of the current programs are targeted at older troops who have already taken their first tour of duty. And these courses often require a lot of time in the classroom.
“The beauty of [this proposal] is that a soldier can do his work at any time and almost any place,” says Clinton L. Anderson, the project director of the Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges, the organization that manages the military’s higher education partnerships. “The problem is that to succeed with a lot of online course, a student needs to be highly disciplined and highly motivated.”
The proposal would also help soldiers earn high school general equivalency diplomas. Designed to appeal to people who have dropped out of school to work — especially Hispanics — the Army would assist recruits who score well on screening tests but do not have high school diplomas prepare for and take GED exams before they started their basic training. According to Army officials, Hispanics make up 40 percent of the potential recruits who score well on screening tests but do not have the required diploma.
However, some Hispanic leaders have expressed concern that the Army’s GED proposal could backfire and lure students away from high school.
“Hispanic leaders do not want there to be a perception that we have lowered the bar for their young people, and the Army can’t afford to let that happen,” Patrick T. Henry, assistant secretary of the Army for manpower and reserve affairs, told The Post. “They don’t want Army recruiting to detract from their efforts to keep kids in school and neither do we. And we certainly don’t want the Army to be seen as an employer of last resort.” 

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