Sailors Testing Their Way to College Degrees


May 18, 2006

18 May 2006 -  By Jon Gagne, Naval Education and Training Command Public Affairs PENSACOLA, Fla. (NNS) -- According to the Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support (DANTES) and the Navy College Program (NCP), Sailors are enrolling in distance learning education programs in record numbers and reaping the rewards in the form of college degrees.

In fiscal year 2005 (FY-05), 61,700 Navy personnel enrolled in more than 168,000 undergraduate college courses and just over 13,000 graduate courses. This 6 percent increase in enrollments over FY-04 continues an upward trend in recent years as Sailors rely on distance learning to complete secondary education programs.

“What we’re witnessing is that Sailors are getting serious about seconday education,” said Senior Chief Electronics Technician (SW) William McKeithen, voluntary education (VOLED) program director for the Naval Educational and Training Command (NETC). "They see this opportunity as personal and career enhancing, and they’re meeting the Navy’s Professional Military Education (PME) task of earning a rating-relevant degree to increase their chances for promotion and job placement. A college education at the expense of the Navy is not only possible, but plausible, and it’s happening every day.”

McKeithen credits the continued rise in enrollment figures to the Navy’s aggressive approach to distance learning through its Distance Learning Partnership program with colleges and universities throughout the United States, and Tuition Assistance (TA), which pays 100 percent of tuition and fees charged by educational institutions for course enrollments. TA is capped at $250 per semester hour, with a fiscal year credit limit of 12 semester hours per individual. In FY-05, the Navy funded more than $83 million in TA funding to help Sailors reach their educational goals, whether assigned ashore or at sea.

Aboard USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), which is presently deployed with Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 14 in the Persian Gulf, more than 2,800 Sailors have registered to take instructor-led or distance education courses since the ship left her homeport of San Diego in January. According to the ship’s Educational Services Officer, Lt. Bill Kuzma, “Ronald Reagan University” is a perfect role model for the Navy College Program Afloat College Education (NCPACE) program.

“I’m just amazed at the level of participation we have from our Sailors in NCPACE,” Kuzma said. “We’ve had 2,804 Sailors sign up for NCPACE instructor-led courses or distance education courses since the beginning of our deployment, and credit-by-examination has been very popular. We expect to conduct about 400 College Level Examination Program (CLEP) and DANTES Subject Standardized Test (DSST) exams before the cruise is over and about 75 American College Testing Assessment Program (ACT) exams. We’re going to continue testing every Sunday so that everyone who requests to take exams has an opportunity to do so.”

Like a number of young Sailors today, McKeithen enlisted in the Navy with plans to obtain a college degree at some point during his career. Now, 20 years later, he passes that advice along to junior personnel.

“As a junior Sailor, I discovered the Navy would pay for CLEP and DANTES subject exams,” McKeithen said, “so I took several opportunities to refresh myself on courses I knew fairly well and then followed through by taking the exams. Once I passed all of them, I submitted my transcripts to a local college and was awarded college credit. By the time I had completed my first tour of duty, I was already into the continuous learning mode, so I stuck with it. Overall, my CLEP and DANTES exam credits provided about half of the credits I needed for my associate’s degree.”

McKeithen has since added a Bachelor of Science Degree in chemistry and graduate certificates in leadership, management, and human resources to his portfolio, and he admits he is quick to point out the benefits of secondary education.

“I’ve stressed throughout my career the positive benefits Sailors receive by using their local Navy College Office and base or ship libraries to bone-up on a subject and then take an exam for college credit," he said. "As professional Sailors, we have demanding schedules, and taking advantage of the programs that help us reach our desired goal is a no-brainer.”

Cryptologic Technician (Technical) (CTT) 1st Class William M. Cockrell, a shipboard operations instructor for the Navy’s CTT ‘A’ school in Pensacola, has followed much the same path in obtaining his college degree. Cockrell points to TA, credit-by-examination and distance learning as his motivating factors.

“Credit-by-examination helped speed up the process of earning my degrees through Excelsior College,” Cockrell said. “Distance Learning allowed me to complete my degrees while working for the Navy full time. I’ve taken and passed 20 credit-by-examinations that included CLEP, DSST and Excelsior exams. TA and credit-by-examination made completing a degree a reality for me. You can't beat the flexibility and the convenience.”

Sailors who are unsure of what direction they need to pursue to obtain a college degree can turn to the Sailor/Marine Online Academic Advisor (SMOLAA), a “Virtual Counseling” tool that has been added to the Sailor/Marine American Council on Education Registry Transcript (SMART). SMOLAA also displays and plots
rating-relevant degree programs offered through Navy College Program Distance Learning Partnership institutions. This degree-shopping feature allows Sailors and Marines to watch their SMART credits transfer into a degree program offered by 18 accredited colleges that have partnered with the Navy through distance learning.

Another popular program is the Service members Opportunity Colleges - Navy (SOCNAV), which consists of 85 accredited colleges offering specific associate's and bachelor's degrees to Navy members worldwide through resident courses or distance learning. Colleges taking part in each curriculum area guarantee to accept each other's credits for transfer. The "home" college issues an official evaluation of all prior learning on a SOCNAV Agreement. This agreement serves as the student's long-range degree plan.

With the Navy’s emphasis on enhancing promotion through academic achievement, more service members than ever before are enrolling in college courses and using their military experience or taking credit-by-examination to earn college credits. Whether they’re serving aboard ship, overseas or on shore duty, a college education awaits through their nearest Navy College Office.

To learn more about the Navy College Program’s Distance Learning Partnership Program, CLEP testing or SOCNAV, visit www.ncp.navy.mil.

To learn more about DANTES Subject Standardized Tests (DSSTs), visit www.dantes.doded.mil.


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