Peace Time: January 19, 2004

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In the United States, the military has reached a level of professionalization where even NCOs are expected to have college degrees. The U.S. was the first nation to insist that military officers be college graduates. Attempts to do this during World War II, at least for air force pilots, failed because less than a third of the potential trainee pilots were college grads. Back then, only a few percent of the population went to college, versus over twenty percent now. Education habits changed after World War II and by the 1970s, it was pretty much obligatory for new officers to be college graduates. But with the all-volunteer military, and a long time (since the 1950s) tuition reimbursement program for college study, more and more career NCOs obtained college degrees during their careers. Currently, about 40 percent of the senior NCOs (E7-E9) have college degrees, and having that degree counts in the competition for getting into those higher ranks. But these NCOs also realize that they will need a second career when they leave the service after 20 or 30 years. Many former NCOs go into teaching, where a degree is required. But just about any well paying job these days requires that degree. The navy is at something of a disadvantage when it comes to NCOs taking college courses in their spare time. Nearly half the navy's petty officers (NCOs) are at sea, which limits off duty educational opportunities. Marine NCOs have less of a problem, because fewer of them are on ships at any one time. But the marines follow a grueling and intense training schedule, so a new plan has been introduced to help marine NCOs get their degrees. Marines in the E6-E8 ranks can go to college for 18 months, while still receiving full pay and benefits. They must already have two years of college completed, because this program is intended to get them to finish up and obtain the four year degree. The marines recognize that as military equipment becomes more expensive and complex, and the jobs marines are called on to do become more diverse, better educated leaders are a necessity. And senior NCOs are often called on to fill in for officers. In wartime, it's not uncommon for NCOs to be given battlefield commissions. If there were a major war, or expansion of the armed forces, many NCOs would be offered officers commissions. So NCOs getting the college degree is not just professional education and retirement planning, but preparing for the worst.

 


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