FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- The Fort Rucker Education Center exists to help Soldiers further their careers and continue their education, and now it's offering the opportunity to earn free college credits.

The education center will hold its first CLEP-a-thon Sept. 21-23 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. as a way for many to test out of many general education courses, according to Randy McNally, supervisory education service specialist for Fort Rucker.

The CLEP-a-thon will provide active-duty service member the chance to take free College Level Examination Program and DANTES Subject Standardized Tests exams and bring awareness to the advantages of CLEP testing, said McNally.

"This facilitates a great way for people to come in and take these tests," he said. "I've had some people come in and take 10-15 of these tests in three days, and if they pass just five then they have 15-semester hours of college credit for free.

"This is a great way for Soldiers to get college credit and they have nothing to lose," said the education service specialist. "There are many general education courses that people can CLEP out of, and not have to sit through the courses for eight to 16 weeks and use their federal funding toward it."

CLEP are provided by about 98 percent of schools in the U.S., according to McNally, and in order to obtain credit from a CLEP test, students must score at least a 50, which is the equivalent of a C grade.

CLEP and DSSTs mainly cover general education and elective classes at the undergraduate level, but some tests can cover classes toward a student's major, such as business or criminal justice.

One of the biggest advantages of CLEP testing is that for Soldiers, it doesn't count toward their Army Tuition Assistance, said McNally. With ATA limited at 16-semester hours per fiscal year, CLEP testing is a great way for Soldiers to earn extra college credit without going toward their limit.

Additionally, with new Army regulations, new Soldiers aren't eligible for tuition assistance until one year after their initial entry training, such as advanced individual training or basic officers leadership course.

"That disallows them for the Army Tuition Assistance for a full year, but CLEPs are a great way for them to attain college credit without it having to come out of pocket," said McNally. "They can CLEP throughout the first year and it can help them to get into the habit of studying and it can help them out a lot."

During the CLEP-a-thon, Soldiers can take as many tests as they wish and the Army will pay for each test once. If a Soldier fails to pass the test, he or she can retake the test but must do so at their own expense, said McNally, otherwise there are no negative repercussions from testing.

"I knew a Soldier when I was in Germany, and he would go every week to CLEP, and he ended up having 30-semester hours of CLEP credit -- that's half an associate's degree done," said the education service specialist. "And even if the Soldier doesn't use the credits for college, they can still be used for promotion points. They can come in and we can do a memo with it and they can turn it in to a promotion board."

The tests are available to family members, as well, but costs must come out of pocket. There are also online study guides and pretests available at the education center, and McNally said people can even sign out a classroom with a group to study for the tests if they wish.

There is no preregistration required to take any CLEP or DSST tests, but people can visit the education center to preregister if they like.

"The CLEP-a-thon is a day that they can come in, register and take the test on the same day," said McNally. "This is the first time we've done this here and we're trying to set it up on a biannual basis to get the word out about CLEP tests. This is such a great, advantageous program, and Soldiers have nothing to lose."

For more information, call 255-2378.