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Online Education Program Ready for Armywide Deployment

By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 12, 2004 – Bringing the virtual classroom to soldiers throughout the Army, including those deployed, is another step closer to becoming a reality, an Army education official said here today.

After more than three years of testing, the Web-based eArmyU program is ready to move from the pilot phase, said Dian Stoskopf, director of the Army Continuing Education System, in an interview with the Pentagon Channel and American Forces Press Service.

Stoskopf, who has worked in Army education for more than 30 years, said the program has been briefed to the Army's leadership numerous times in an effort to gain support to move forward.

"We know the program works," she said. "We've worked most of the bugs out. We feel as though we're ready to deploy this program Armywide."

The program -- initially tested at Fort Benning, Ga., Fort Campbell, Ky., and Fort Hood, Texas, in 2001 -- has expanded to Fort Lewis, Wash., and Fort Carson, Colo., as well as to 11 other installations throughout the Army.

Some 30,000 soldiers have enrolled in eArmyU, and the program has helped some 726 soldiers get college degrees thus far. The Army's goal is to have some 80,000 soldiers enrolled by 2005.

The program offers eligible enlisted soldiers the opportunity to work toward a college degree or certificate through Web-based instruction.

Though soldiers in Afghanistan can enroll in the program, "Iraq is still too dangerous" to deploy educational specialists to assist soldiers with the program, Stoskopf said. "When they open the country up to us, we will indeed deploy qualified counselors or education services officers to provide educational support on the ground," she added.

Soldiers have access to 146 certificate and degree programs offered by 29 accredited colleges and universities. Once enrolled, they receive up to 100 percent funding for tuition, books and course fees, as well as a personal laptop computer, e-mail account and free online access through an Army Web portal at the eArmyU Web site.

To participate, soldiers must be active duty or active Guard or reserve and assigned to an area near or at an eArmyU-designated installation. They must meet minimum service-remaining requirements and must be eligible for favorable personnel action and have a high school diploma or General Equivalency Diploma.

Stoskopf said those who enroll in the program end up doing quite well.

"We're averaging about a 79.9 percent, close to 80 percent, course-completion rate, which is very comparable to the completion rate of four-year academic institutions that provide distance-learning courses, so it's very favorable." But she cautioned the program is not for everyone.

"Some students think it's easy to go to school this way, and it really is not," she explained. "It's probably as taxing, if not more so, to go to school in an online environment than (in) face-to-face classroom instruction."

Though eArmyU was conceived as a recruiting tool to attract young people to the military, Stoskopf said the program has become what may well be the retention tool the Army has been searching for.

"I've been in the business for 33 years searching for way to attract more soldiers to Army education, and we've finally found the answer," she said.

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