View Full Version : Education 'anytime, anywhere': Troops overseas still attend class after day's work

09-23-03, 06:06 AM
Education 'anytime, anywhere': Troops overseas still attend class after day's work

By Nicole Ziegler Dizon
10:47 p.m. September 21, 2003

CHICAGO – While other members of Governors State University's Class of 2002 were accepting their diplomas, fellow graduate Lt. Dean F. Dunlop was 6,000 miles away leading officers in combat training.

Like others, Dunlop earned his bachelor of arts degree from the suburban Chicago school by taking child development and psychology courses, but he did it via CD-ROM, often doing homework on his laptop after a 12-hour work shift in Japan.

Service members like Dunlop are no longer waiting for active duty to end before starting college, instead earning MBAs from Iraq and taking computer courses in Afghanistan as part of the military's commitment to lifelong learning.

"The Navy has made such a big push on educating their sailors," said Dunlop, a 22-year Navy veteran serving on the USS Hue City. "Since I've been in, I think the armed forces are the most educated they've ever been."

Military officials say the push toward higher education is nothing new. But technology has made it easier for nomadic service members to get their degrees via the Internet or satellite classes beamed to ships or bases.

The Army launched eArmyU in January 2001 to add an online component to an education system that already includes on- and off-base classroom instruction. The program lets soldiers earn certificates and degrees from 27 member colleges.

Betty Nass, program coordinator for eArmyU, said the idea is to recruit and retain soldiers and prepare them for the modern military.

"It's anytime, anywhere," she said.

All military branches offer some sort of distance learning program, often with the promise of full tuition reimbursement.

Colleges also encourage enrollment by offering credit for military training and making it easy to transfer credits. About 1,700 institutions belong to the Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges; members agree to accept each other's credits within degree networks.

The payoff is more men and women staying in the service – and a more educated armed forces, according to Rear Adm. Ann E. Rondeau, commander of the Naval Service Training Command. "People see the Navy and the military walking the walk that we want to invest in you," Rondeau said.

EArmyU's Web site tells of soldiers who have logged on from Afghanistan and Kuwait – including one who had to replace his laptop after it was hit by a bullet. As of September, nearly 38,000 members were enrolled in the program, and 308 degrees had been awarded over 2˝ years, Nass said.

More than 185,000 users are registered to the Navy's e-learning program, which also offers online courses, said Lt. Cmdr. Scott Allen of the Great Lakes Naval Training Center.

In addition, the Navy – aware of the difficulty getting Internet connections at sea – offers video-conferencing equipment aboard all its aircraft carriers and amphibious assault ships, Allen said.

Patricia Strait, a management professor at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., sometimes arrives at 2 a.m. to teach live satellite MBA classes to sailors and officers halfway around the world.

Strait, who spent four years in the Navy, is amazed at her students' dedication; some have appeared on her video screens grease-stained from work. She often begins class by reading local headlines, and sailors' family members sometimes make guest appearances.

"I can't believe that they sign up for these courses, but from what these students tell me, it's their getaway," Strait said. "Not only is it their getaway, but it's their connection back home."

Professors say service members are less likely than the average student to drop out or fail, despite their rigorous schedules.

"The biggest difference I've noticed with military students is they tend be very responsible and they tend not to make as many excuses for not turning in work," said Clifford Cast, a professor of information technology for AIU Online, the Web-based campus of American InterContinental University.

The benefit may be a bonus, promotion or ready-made resume.

"It's a good career move for young officers, not only if you're staying in the Navy, but if you want to hedge your talent in case you want to get out of the Navy," said Lt. Brian Nowak, who is department head at Great Lakes and takes MBA courses at night from Northwestern University.

Dunlop got a bonus and a better shot at becoming a commanding officer when he earned his bachelor's degree. His diploma now hangs in his room.

"Sometimes I look at it on the wall and go, 'Wow, it took me 22 years, but I did it'," he said.

On the Net:

Servicemembers Opportunities Colleges: www.soc.aascu.org/Default.html

eArmyU: www.earmyu.com/

Navy College Program for Afloat College Education: www.ncpace.com/aboutNCPACE/mkt–aboutNCPACE.jsp