FORT MONROE, Va. (TRADOC News Service, November 20, 2007) - Higher-education leaders from across the country came here Nov. 14 to discuss the Army's new College of the American Soldier with the commanding general of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, Gen. William S. Wallace, and Command Sgt. Maj. John D. Sparks, TRADOC's command sergeant major.

The College of the American Soldier is a partnership with the participating 10 colleges that promotes educating Soldiers through the Noncommissioned Officer Education System as well as gives Soldiers the opportunity to successfully obtain their bachelor's degree with minimal obstacles. It also accelerates NCO development by streamlining the process of pursuing a higher education.

Coastline, Barstow, Limestone and Thomas Edison State offer associates degrees through the program. Thomas Edison College, Austin Peay, Franklin, Limestone, Park, Strayer, Maryland and Empire State offer bachelors degree programs.

"This program not only benefits Soldiers but serves the best interest of institutions as well," said Wallace at the Nov. 14 CAS kick-off event at Fort Monroe, Va. "Improving civilian-education opportunities for Soldiers throughout their military careers helps promote the ideal of lifelong learning and extends the pursuit of knowledge well beyond a Soldier's service commitment."

The session here gave TRADOC senior leaders a chance to talk face to face with the college educators who will help the Army get the College of the American Soldier off the ground.

"It is important for our leadership to get out there and support this program so Soldiers know that the College of the American Soldier has a bunch of colleges that will help streamline their ability to achieve a bachelor's or associates degree," Sparks said.

The program will maximize a Soldier's potential college credits based on their military training and education. A Soldier could realistically attain a bachelor of arts or bachelor of science degree by the time they reach retirement based on the American Council on Education's recommended credits for military training and education and their completion of college classes, working with the Service Members Opportunity Colleges Army Degrees member schools.

Jim Cronin, assistant vice president Department of the Defense program manager for the University of Maryland was one of the attendees at the meeting. His impression of the program was that you "can see it's an NCO-run program based on an NCO idea." The college representatives saw there was a lot of support from Sparks and other military officials and respected the time they put into this program.

"The way TRADOC packaged this is a very forward-looking thing for the NCOs. It allows the Soldier to see how training equates to civilian education," said Cronin.

Participating colleges will certify the amount of credit up front to be applied to a career noncommissioned officer degree based on the American Council on Education's credit recommendations. Colleges currently participating in the College of the American

The College of the American Soldier program will also make it easier for NCOs to assess where they are in attaining their degree.

The College of the American Soldier will link with a portal called the Army Career Tracker, which will show a Soldier a specific "map" toward a degree. Soldiers will be able to see what Noncommissioned Officer Education System courses will transfer as equivalent credit at any point in their career - from basic training through the Sergeants Major Course. The portal will list exactly what a SOCAD school will grant, get each credit source and provide a list of other ways guaranteed to meet degree requirements.

"If Soldiers can see the benefits of the program up front, they're much more likely to do it," Sparks said.

The program is designed to benefit the NCO Corps directly by developing a lifelong-learning strategy for a warrior leader-development program. This program increases the scope of military training and education materials being evaluated for college credit, including the Army Correspondence Course Program, which will result in limiting the residency requirements at participating schools.

"Continued civilian education helps develop confident, multi-skilled, and adaptive leaders with enhanced competencies and improved capabilities earlier in their career," said Wallace.

The flexibility of the program also encourages an NCO's lifelong learning strategy because there is no time limit for completion.

The program is a departure from how things have been done in the past. Previously, Soldiers could begin their education at one post and then arrive at a new post to discover that their credits would not transfer or would only count as electives, making it very difficult to eventually receive a bachelor's degree. Sometimes the same degree programs were not available at the new post, or there would be different educational program criteria at the new post.

The program will benefit Soldiers regardless if they make a career of the Army or not.

"It is better for the armed forces because they are more educated, and if they leave the armed forces more educated, it is better for America," said the TRADOC Deputy Commanding General, Lt. Gen. Thomas F. Metz. "I believe it is a win-win situation."