Review of the Army's New Distance-Education Program

By Faith I. Womack

Last summer, the secretary of the Army, Mr. Louis Caldera, announced that the Army would be spending $600-million over the next six years in an effort to encourage soldiers to participate in online distance-education courses at little or no cost. This program will help soldiers attain their educational goals by providing them with laptops, as well as a wide array of distance-education on-line colleges, degree options, resources and services. Not only is the Army planning to provide laptops and distance-education programs, they will also pay for tuition and textbooks for those who take their courses through the Army's partner schools.

Although education is one of the main recruiting and retention tools used by all branches of the military, traditional educational models do not always work well for the Army because soldiers don't work nine-to-five jobs. The Army's mission includes spending time in the field training for war-time activities, going on long marches, assisting people during times of crisis, and often being deployed on short notice actions. Thus, soldiers are not always able to attend classes at their base. In fact, it is not unusual for them to rush to classes after a twelve-hour workday which may negatively affect their levels of attention and participation. Further, if women have family responsibilities in addition to their military activities, this may seriously restrict their access to education and continued participation.

The stated goals of the Army's initiative include the following: 1) Contracting Pricewaterhouse Coopers to coordinate and manage the project and recruit potential colleges. 2) Partnering with colleges that offer a wide range of educational choices including portable resources. 3) Offering classes beginning in January 2001. 4) Allowing soldiers to pursue distance education twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. 5) Wiring barracks like college dorms giving soldiers easy access to Internet connections. 6) Evaluating the feasibility of this program for military families, including spouses, who often miss out on educational advancement opportunities, especially if the family is stationed overseas.

Currently, the Army education centers provide educational counseling, testing and training on active duty bases and more remote locations. The existing on-base college programs will co-exist with this new program in order to provide soldiers a full array of educational options. Pricewaterhouse Coopers has recently formed a team of ten companies and twenty-nine colleges who have experience working with the military. The current list of colleges is expected to expand as other colleges get on the bandwagon.

At present, many soldiers are not using their tuition assistance or GI Bill benefits because of work or family commitments. The betterment of society is not served when countless soldiers return to non-military life with little or no education for employment in the civilian job market. For more information on this project, visit the web site listing the businesses and colleges contracted to provide distance-education for Army personnel at