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Be All That You Can Be - With A Degree

Recruiting: To compete with the private sector, the Army is considering offering a broad curriculum of college-level courses leading to diplomas.

WASHINGTON -- The secretary of the Army will propose a new plan today to increase recruitment by offering soldiers an extensive curriculum of college-level courses via the Internet, with the promise that they could earn two-year associate's degrees during their initial four-year enlistments at virtually no cost. The plan, which would mark an unprecedented expansion of educational opportunities for soldiers in uniform, is a measure of the Army's distress as it competes for personnel in a booming civilian job market. Searching for an advantage, the Army wants to ensure that its 165,000 first-term soldiers have enough free time and access to computers to take online courses from accredited colleges, even when they are deployed far from home.

The "distance learning" initiative, along with a related proposal to help soldiers earn high school equivalency diplomas, also represents a major shift in the Army's approach to potential recruits.
Since the World War II generation went to college under the GI Bill, the Army has emphasized programs that provide educational benefits for soldiers after they are discharged. Convinced that many young people worry about losing ground if they postpone their educations, Secretary of the Army Louis Caldera hopes to sell the idea that schoolwork can be as much a part of military life as going on maneuvers.

"The Army has traditionally been a place of opportunity, and now it is going to be a place where you learn while you serve, in addition to being a place where you earn benefits and save money so you can keep learning when your service is completed," Caldera said in an interview.
Caldera will outline the proposals and other efforts to make Army service more appealing during a speech Friday at a conference of Latino leaders in Miami, according to senior Army officials. Some of the measures, such as a program to help recruits pass the high school equivalency test, are designed specifically to attract Latinos, who have shown a high propensity for military service but are underrepresented in the Army, the officials said.

The equivalency program is aimed at young people who dropped out of school to work; one Army study showed that Latinos make up 40% of the potential recruits who score well on screening tests but lack high school diplomas. The Army would help such recruits prepare for and take the equivalency exam before the start of basic training.

During earlier consultations, Latino leaders raised concern that this program might backfire by luring students out of high school. Friday, Caldera is expected to reassure a broad audience of Latino educators, businesspeople and public officials that the Army has fine-tuned the program to avoid that problem: Only prospects who have been out of high school for at least a year and are too old to return will be eligible, and they will have to score high in the screening test.

"Hispanic leaders do not want there to be a perception that we have lowered the bar for their young people, and the Army can't afford to let that happen," said Patrick T. Henry, assistant secretary of the Army for manpower and reserve affairs. "They don't want Army recruiting to detract from their efforts to keep kids in school, and neither do we. And we certainly do not want the Army to be seen as an employer of last resort." The educational initiatives, which are still being completed within the Army and await formal approval from Defense Secretary William S. Cohen, are being offered as all the military services struggle to compete with job opportunities in the civilian economy. In fiscal 1999, the Army came up 8% short of its recruiting goal, by far the largest shortfall of any
service, and managed to meet its personnel needs only because more soldiers than expected decided to reenlist.

In partnership with a variety of U.S. colleges and universities, the Army and other branches of the military already offer extensive access to college-level courses at bases worldwide, including both associate's and bachelor's degree programs. Credits are fully transferable within the network of colleges, and the Army usually pays 75% of the tuition.

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