By Rob McIlvaine
ARLINGTON, Va. (Army News Service, Aug. 9, 2011) -- In the past 10 years, online computer technology has grown exponentially to a point where eArmyU officials said they will culminate their program March 31, 2012.
The purpose of eArmyU -- an online degree program which began in 2001 -- was to provide Soldiers access to a college education, and officials said the need for that program has been overshadowed by other booming distance-learning resources.
Since World War II, and in the years leading up to 2001 when eArmyU became a Soldier's entry point to higher education and personal growth, the only courses available were those offered at the time in the on-post brick-and-mortar classrooms. Obtaining a degree, with the constant movement a Soldier experiences, was very difficult.
"Back in 2001 the world was changing. Technology was becoming much more prevalent and distance learning came in," said Ileen Rogers, director of Army Continuing Education at Human Resources Command, Fort Knox, Ky.
Accessing instruction via the Internet, she said, was becoming a viable means of getting an education.
The Army decided to take advantage of this by initiating eArmyU and giving Soldiers the tools they needed to continue their education and not be confined by the traditional brick-and-mortar classroom to do it.
"But a laptop was an expensive piece of equipment, so at the onset of the program, Soldiers lined up to receive a free laptop and a liberal education assistance package. As long as they completed enough course work in eArmyU they were allowed to keep it," Rogers said about the laptop computers.
Colleges had to work hard to be part of the Army's program.
"When the program started there were about 23 colleges. Over the years, it has grown to include 45 colleges. But to be in the program, the college had to be regionally accredited and be a member of the Servicemembers Opportunity College," Rogers said.
SOC was created in 1972 to provide educational opportunities to servicemembers who, because they frequently moved from place to place, had trouble completing college degrees. Funded by the Department of Defense through a contract with the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, the contract is managed for DOD by the Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support.
"Before 2001, distance learning was insignificant," Rogers said. "Today, more than 72 percent of all our enrollments are in distance learning. The original concept was to expand access. We have."
"Instead of 45 schools, Soldiers now have more than 2,000 choices out there. So, their options for selecting a home college, transferability, degree completion has just expanded beyond the original concept of eArmyU," she continued.
In spite of the current optempo, she said, enrollment in college programs has increased every year.
"Right now, at GoArmyEd.com, our Soldiers enroll in 2,600 colleges across the nation and around the world," she said.
"Technology has driven our access so that Soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq, Africa, no matter where they are, they are online, they're doing distance learning through all kinds of modes, not just the Internet," she said.
Schools, she said, have stepped forward to provide pre-loaded courses on PDAs, tablets, and other devices.
"Our schools are out there pushing distance learning and access so that we can't keep up with it. Every time you turn around, there's some new media out there where Soldiers can access and continue their education," Rogers said.
Tuition Assistance, she said, will continue because the Army is committed to Soldiers and their personal and professional growth.
"We want our Soldiers to know that eArmyU has been a success. We've achieved our major goals in providing access for our Soldiers, that they can be assured that no matter where they go on their mission, that the core ingredient for their personal growth is still there and the Army will do all it can to support them in that," she said.
The Army, she said, has taken a leadership role in supporting its Soldiers.
"We're the only service that provides tuition assistance to all components. A Soldier is a Soldier, whether on active duty or in one of the Reserve Components. The finances are there and the people are there to help them achieve their personal goals in terms of education," Rogers said.
Of the 64,000 Soldiers who have benefitted from eArmyU over the past decade, 1,432 are still using the program.
"We're telling each one about the change, because the program is still open to them until March 31, 2012. And we encourage them to keep working hard to complete their program and work closely with their educational counselor to work out a plan and get them to degree completion," she said, adding the schools will continue to offer their program through GoArmyEd.
"We'll do all we can to help them reach that goal," she said.
To find out more about the program, go to a local education center, or go online at GoArmyEd.com to access a list of all Army education centers and points of contact.