|Army Seeks Industry Help For Online University |
Army Seeks Industry Help For Online University
By Joe Burlas, Army News Service, Aug. 7, 2000.
Washington -- Getting a laptop computer and printer into the hands of soldiers wanting to earn technical certification or a college degree just took a step forward.
Secretary of the Army Louis Caldera hosted the Army University Access Online Industry Day forum at the International Trade Center here Aug. 2 to generate prospective contractor interest in the education initiative and to get industry's help in identifying contract requirements.
"We need your help to realize the vision of a system where soldiers have access to education at their fingertips anytime, anywhere -- a system that fits their very, very busy lives," Caldera told an audience of about 1,000 senior Army, academic and web-based business leaders attending the event. "We need a system that can go with them to all the places they deploy and go - from a field training exercise to the four corners of the world, to the next duty station they will be assigned.
"We want a system that offers a wide range of choice of education providers to sign up with and an extensive menu of courses to take. A wide variety of choice means soldiers can find the program and style of online education that works best for them."
A laptop computer, printer and Internet access are just a few of the things the contractor will be required to provide soldiers registered in the program.
Caldera first announced the distance-learning initiative July 12.
To make the online university a reality in the near future, almost $600 million has been earmarked for the project over the next six years. Since the Army can be considered a bulk buyer of technical and college education from the civilian market, Caldera said he hopes the new program can be configured in such a way that it will be offered "at low cost or no cost to soldiers."
The secretary listed three reasons how the education initiative will benefit the Army. It will help recruiting efforts because serving in the Army or getting a college education right out of high school will no longer be an either-or proposition -- soldiers can do both at the same time. It will help retention because soldiers will not have to leave the Army to use the education benefit such as currently is the case with the Montgomery GI Bill. And, it will provide more technology-savvy soldiers in an increasingly technology-dependant Army.
The Army has long been an education innovator though few know it, according Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. John M. Keene.
"In 1866, it was that Army that established the first nationwide compulsive schools for children of soldiers and offered it to children in surrounding civilian communities," he said. "This (initiative) is the most significant change the Army has undertaken since World War II."
Sgt. Maj. of the Army Jack L. Tilley told attendees that it takes soldiers an average of 12 years to get an associate degree while serving on active duty. Some of the hurdles they face, according to Tilley, include nontraditional work hours, field exercises, deployments, strict limits on the number of credit hours one university will transfer from another, different colleges and universities offered varying among the many Army installations and a cap on the number of credit hours allowed each semester under the Tuition Assistance Program.
The Army's top NCO said he believes the new program will help soldiers overcome many of those hurdles and allow them to earn a degree on their first enlistment. He also said he plans on using it to complete his college degree.
The Army University Access Online contract is slated to be awarded in December to either a single academic entity or a consortium of education providers. It will then be tested with soldiers based at three currently unnamed Army installations before being offered to all soldiers.
Depending on the costs and requirements of the contract, the program may also be offered to spouses sometime in the future, Caldera said. Reservists and Department of the Army civilians will also likely be offered some form of the program eventually, according to another senior Army official.