Last May, when seven Fort Meade Soldiers received their Associate of Arts diplomas from Anne Arundel Community College, John Anderson couldn't have been prouder than if they'd been members of his own family.
"I was happy for them. People work hard to get to that point and it's a tremendous accomplishment," said Anderson, who attended the graduation ceremony.
The Soldiers were able to get their degrees through a program that Anderson, an education services specialist at the Fort Meade Army Education Center, oversees. He is responsible for the Department of Army program, GoArmyEd, which provides tuition assistance to active duty and reserve Soldiers.
The DoD offers similar tuition assistance programs to other branches of the military. Since GoArmyEd began in 2006, it has proven quite popular and Anderson, a retired sergeant major, said he gets inquiries about it constantly.
Still, he'd like to see more Soldiers take advantage of GoArmyEd, which enables them to earn undergraduate degrees (associate of arts, bachelor of arts and bachelor of science), a graduate degree (master's) and/or certification at over 3,000 authorized colleges and universities throughout the United States.
All of the schools are either regionally or nationally accredited, according to Anderson, and most have their curriculum online.
$4,500 per year.
Soldiers enrolled in an authorized school can receive up to $4,500 per year for tuition. Depending on the fee for credit hours at the school and the number of credits a Soldier has earned elsewhere, that could translate into a college degree for free.
It did for Sgt. 1st Class Isaac Peterson, chief of training development, NCO Academy, who received an AA degree in electronics and computer engineering from Grantham University last March.
The degree required 65 credits, to which Peterson brought 21 credits from a previous AA degree and his military training. At Grantham's $250 per credit hour, "I almost ran out of money the first year" of the two-year program, said Peterson, who received a scholarship from the school to cover the difference.
"Between the Army's tuition assistance and the school scholarship, it did not cost me a dime," Peterson said of his AA degree.
The Fort Meade Army Education Center, at 8601 Zimborski Ave., has a computer lab with PCs, and a separate "college" area with information about the GoArmyEd program.
Three institutions of higher education -- Anne Arundel Community College, University of Maryland University College and Central Michigan University -- have offices in this area, where potential students can get personal counseling and information about courses and degrees. The three hold evening classes at Fort Meade High and Middle schools.
GoArmyEd.com is the portal through which Soldiers can enroll in classes that meet graduation requirements. "They can take classes online if offered or attend schools in the area," Anderson said.
Soldiers take the same online classes as any other student. They receive a degree from the university in which they are enrolled. For example, a Soldier who satisfactorily completes academic requirements online through Pennsylvania State Worldwide Campus receives a diploma from Pennsylvania State University.
Peterson said he heard about Grantham University, which is located in Kansas City, Mo., from another Soldier, who told him it had the courses he wanted. He also liked the fact that Grantham caters specifically to the military.
"Some of their enrollment counselors are former military people," he said. "They understand our timing, for the breaks between courses."
Soldiers can choose to major in any field they want. Ideally, though, the major should lead to a degree and be applicable to the job market. For that reason, said Vivian Moss, a guidance counselor at the Fort Meade Army Education Center, continuing education credits do not qualify for the program.
"Soldiers come [into the Army] with college credits they have accumulated, often in Advanced Placement courses in high school. We try to help them apply those credit hours" towards a degree, Moss said.
Fees for credit hours vary widely. A community college in Arizona charges $68 per credit hour, while a traditional university may cost $600 per credit hour. GoArmyEd pays a maximum of $250 per credit hour, and courses must be part of the degree or certification requirements.
"If not, it is possible to get an override," said Moss, as long as a case can be made that the course is applicable to the major. "If you're a sociology major and you want to take an extra pre-calculus course" in preparation for a required calculus course, she gave as an example, "you can get tuition for the credits."
Moss explained that GoArmyEd and the GI Bill are two separate and distinct educational programs. The Veterans Administration supports the GI Bill, which has different qualifications and different funding requirements than the DoD's GoArmyEd.
Anderson calls himself the "go-between" the Soldier and the school. "I ask them, 'What do you want on your resume''" he said.
He cited a few examples of Soldiers who have used GoArmyEd. One Solider received a master's degree in information technology from Trident University; another, a master's degree in contract and procurement from Webster University; and a third received bachelor's and master's degrees in public administration from Park University and Central Michigan University respectively.
The DoD has a tuition assistance program for spouses of Soldiers. My Career Advancement Account, or MyCAA, provides $4,000 per year tuition assistance for spouses of E1 through E5, W1 and W2 and O1 and O2 ranks. The money can be applied towards an AA degree or certification.
In the GoArmyEd program, the most popular majors in the Maryland-Washington, D.C. region are information technology, IT management, intelligence studies, hospital administration, public health and homeland security/justice.
Those choices come as no surprise, said Anderson. "That's where the jobs are in this area."