College is part of Army program

Soldiers to register for online courses at Arundel campus

January 29, 2001|By Stephanie Desmon | Stephanie Desmon,SUN STAFF

On the first morning of registration for the Army's new online university, soldiers at Georgia's Fort Benning camped outside the doors waiting to get inside.

Some of those soldier-students may soon be enrolled at Anne Arundel Community College about 660 miles away. It's part of an ambitious program to allow men and women in the Army to earn associate's, bachelor's and master's degrees through the Internet, regardless of where they are stationed and how long they stay in one place.

"We're doing this to make sure education is available for soldiers anytime, anywhere," said Paul Boyce, an Army spokesman. "Let's face it, as they say in the Internet world, it's 24/7."

Anne Arundel Community College is one of 29 higher education institutions from around the country - and the only one in Maryland - to offer courses as part of the Army initiative. Starting Feb. 12, soldiers can take classes in marketing, math, sociology and more from the college, all on the Army's dime. Soldier-students will also be issued laptop computers and will have access to online advisers to help them through the curriculum.

The Army expects up to 15,000 soldiers from three pilot installations - Fort Benning, Fort Hood in Texas and Fort Campbell in Kentucky - to sign up in the first year. Students will be able to pick from a list of courses for which they are eligible. By the fifth year, they estimate up to 80,000 students stationed worldwide, including soldiers at Fort Meade, will be enrolled.

"We think it's going to grow into something that's a pretty big deal," Paul Warner, the college's director of learning technology and distance learning, said last week. But, he said, "I have no idea" how many soldiers will choose Anne Arundel Community College this semester.

"We really don't have any hard numbers yet at all," Warner said.

The Army has a $453 million contract with PricewaterhouseCoopers, the consulting firm, to manage the project.

Online classes can be taken at each student's pace, as long as assignments are completed on time. Online discussions and projects are included, as well as off-line reading and papers, Warner said. Students can log on long after the workday is done, if needed.

"It's very attractive to returning students, people with lots of responsibilities," he said.

It's a perfect fit for the highly mobile in the Army, who may be transferred before they have time to finish courses or degrees at a local school, Boyce said.

It's a good fit for the college, too, Warner said, because the school's online courses have been growing quickly. The school offers two online degree programs to civilians - business management and general studies - and nearly 80 courses. In fall 1999, 600 were enrolled in the college's online classes; now there are 1,400, he said. Plans are in the works to expand the number of degrees offered online, he said.

Online education removes geography as a factor in choosing a school - no longer do students have to pick the closest campus.

"The Army represents a vast pool of students, and the online educational space is developing so rapidly that we felt this was something we needed to stay involved with the market," Warner said.

"A lot of people see it as the wave of the future. I'm not sure it's going to turn traditional education on its head but ... I think it's really going to impact the way education evolves."

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