Army Announces $600 Million Program to Educate Soldiers
WASHINGTON — Soldiers who choose the Army over school will soon be able to spend evenings in their bunks working for a college or technical degree.
A new $600 million Army education program, designed to attract and keep recruits while creating a more wired Army, will provide laptop computers, printers and terminals in barracks to hook up via the Internet to a worldwide online learning system.
“It’s really important for recruiting, for retention and to help educate the more technologically savvy soldiers that our country is going to need in the 21st century,” Army Secretary Louis Caldera says.
The Army, Navy and Air Force all are falling behind in recruitment goals while enrollment at post-high school institutions is skyrocketing.
The Army University Access Online plan reflects the fact that higher education, not the hot civilian job market, has become military recruiters’ chief competitor, Caldera says.
He has called for educational institutions, Internet companies and computer software and hardware companies to submit contract proposals for classes that would come online as early as January. Funding for the first year is budgeted at $48 million, with another $550 million over the next five years, the Army says.
Eventually, 1 million soldiers, other Army employees and family members are expected to enroll in the system, which will include tuition grants and Army-supplied or subsidized computer equipment.
One aim is to keep and attract more young men and women by offering the chance to earn a degree during a four-year enlistment, making the Army an option for education rather than an alternative to it.
Using the Internet, soldier students are expected to be able to enroll in a wide variety of schools and keep up with their studies no matter where they are based.
Some soldiers also may use their laptops on the job.
“We operate in an environment of network-centered battlefields and digital communication,” Caldera says, adding that the nature of modern military duty also requires a broader education.
“We are in very ambitious, thorny missions that require a pretty good understanding of human behavior, psychology, history, culture, religion and different kinds of fighting, peace-keeping and peace enforcement,” he says.
Asked how the military would make up for the lost time soldiers might spend studying, Caldera says he has already talked to the Army’s sergeants about allowing more study time, and soldiers would be expected to use their free time as well.
About 5,000 Army personnel gain college or technical degrees each year, with the military paying 75 percent of their tuition. Nearly 100,000 are enrolled in some kind of class.
Caldera says that in issuing contracts for the system, the Army would take advantage of its marketing power to drive prices down for soldiers, so family members can also be included. He said the plan is to have an open system that allows a large number of universities, colleges, technical schools, computer learning centers and other institutions to participate.
“Even the private in the infantry should have an e-mail account and become information-age capable,” he says. “It’s a misconception that all the Army is about is crawling in the mud.”
— The Associated Press
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