Army Offers GIs Online Education
Degrees Aim To Up Retention
Washington - The army, hoping to reduce a major barrier to recruiting and
retaining talented young people, will announce today a new education program to
help millions of soldiers earn college degrees and technical certificates
through a global system of online learning.
As envisioned by Army leaders, the new system will offer educational
opportunities from a diverse consortium of colleges, universities and technical
schools linked by computers. Soldiers will be provided computers, printers and
Internet access. Funds also will be available for textbooks and fees.
New policies will make it easier for soldier-students to enroll, transfer
credits and meet degree requirements. In addition, Army officials said, students
will be assigned coaches to provide career guidance and academic support.
"Army university Access On-Line," with a six-year cost of $550
million, is designed to enable a new recruit or a veteran soldier to earn a college
degree within four years during active enlistment.
And because the system will be built around "distance learning," students
will be able to do class work from schools of their own choosing no matter where
they are stationed, even during peace-keeping deployments in places like Bosnia.
The program, which officials hope to have up and running at two or three
pilot sites - serving 15,000 to 20,000 soldiers - by early next year, is aimed
at countering a widespread concern among potential recruits and their parents
that they face a choice between serving in the military and pursuing higher
"What we want to do is make it so it's not an either/or choice. you can
learn while you serve," Secretary of the Army Louis Caldera said.
The Army also hopes that the opportunity to earn degrees while in the service
will encourage the best and brightest to stay in uniform longer.
In today's era of rising prosperity, greater competition for talent in the
job market and increased emphasis on advanced education in the United States,
the armed forces have faced mounting difficulty in keeping their ranks filled
with high-quality volunteers. Last year, the Army fell about 6,300 short of its
goal of 74,000 new recruits and ended the year at full strength only because of
an unusually large number of re-enlistments.
Meeting this year's targets is expected to be equally difficult, and similar
problems have plagued the Navy and Air Force.
In recent years, the different branches of the military have tried to woo
able recruits by offering programs similar to the old GI Bill, providing money
for education after military service. But such incentives have lost some of
their appeal as scholarships and student loans have become more widely
available. And even if the promise of financial aid draws some recruits into
service, the best of them tend to leave as soon as they can to reap the promised
So the Army has revamped and retargeted its recruitment strategy. Programs
have been launched to help recruits who dropped out of high school earn
equivalency certificates and pursue other educational opportunities.
By: Richard T. Cooper - of the Los Angeles Times