The mission of the Department of the Navy is to maintain, train and equip combat-ready Naval forces capable of deterring war, countering aggression and maintaining freedom of the seas. It is a formidable goal. Sailors, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen have an incredibly important responsibility to keep our nation safe, while being prepared to dominate the battlespace in conflict. Training, preparation, and hard work is unceasing and substantial.
In order to further the mission of having the best prepared and most effective maritime fightingforce in the world, the Department of the Navy, in cooperation with the United States Marine Corps, and the United States Coast Guard, has decided to pilot and develop a community college specifically supporting naval education for enlisted service members. Recently, when asked about the value of education, VADM Lisa Franchetti, the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Warfighting Development (N7) explained that “Going forward, any edge gained in the competitive battle space, either militarily or intellectually, increases our warfighting advantage. An enlisted force that can innovate and outthink the adversary provides leadership with more options and enhances the inherent flexibility of our naval forces.”
The concept of the US Naval Community College or USNCC, came out of a study seeking to identify opportunities to better prepare our exceptional enlisted service members and to support them throughout their career. Naval leadership directed the USNCC to begin pilot programs to identify the best way to help our enlisted naval service members to access naval-relevant education opportunities that will both make them better warfighters, and support lifelong learning.
The USNCC is working closely with leaders across the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard to test and identify the best approach to helping our service members access and succeed at college, while balancing their military duties . The initial pilot program (Pilot I) takes place starting this January with close to 600 enlisted service members participating in a series of online courses, at several civilian colleges, in areas that include nuclear, cyber, data analytics, english, math, and naval ethics. The USNCC will be leveraging this first pilot to get feedback from our service members, and to answer questions such as the best delivery method, length of courses, student support, enrollment processes, partner characteristics, and student satisfaction.
We will then turn our attention to a second pilot scheduled to commence in 2022, with classes beginning in the Summer/Fall of 2022. During that phase, we plan to enroll as many as 5000 students into targeted associate’s degree programs with several of our partner colleges and universities. The feedback from this pilot will help us finalize our approach, student support, partnerships, and delivery mechanisms to make sure we can achieve our mission, prior to growing the USNCC to serve many more enlisted service members.
Over the subsequent years, we anticipate growing both in the number of students we serve, as well as in the degree programs we plan to offer. We also will pursue accreditation giving the USNCC the ability to directly award credit and offer degrees and certificates to our students.
What makes the USNCC unique?
I am often asked, what is unique about the USNCC, and why is it different from the tuition assistance program our enlisted service members may access. Why is it important for the Department of the Navy to develop the USNCC and what will make it valuable? In answer to these questions, I point to a number of facets of the USNCC that make up our delivery model and approach.
● Naval-relevant degree programs - The USNCC envisions offering 14-15 different associate of science (AS) pathways that are relevant to our Sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen - regardless of their rating or MOS - and cover both technical fields (e.g.nuclear, engineering, cyber) and generalist programs (e.g. organizational leadership, military history). These programs help ensure that a service member improves on their responsibilities today, while building their capacity to take on challenges of tomorrow.
● Naval Core - The program is centered around a Naval/Maritime Core that includes coursework providing all participants a similar grounding within the Naval Services, and is based in part on the USNA and NROTC programs future officers receive. It will support ethical leadership development, and provide an understanding of Naval History, Geopolitics, Civil/Military context, and force structure and organization. This Naval Core, plus classes in English and Math and other sciences, will provide a strong educational foundation for all enlisted service members.
● Stackable Certificates - While the ultimate goal will be an Associate of Science (AS) degree, students have an opportunity to get recognition and be awarded certificates in pursuit of that goal. The students can earn a Naval Core Certificate, and a Professional Certificate - which will be made up of the ‘major’ (or concentration) classwork for their given pathway (e.g. nuclear fields, organizational leadership, etc…)
● Online, flexible delivery - The coursework will be delivered online, asynchronously allowing Sailors to use their own time, ashore and at sea. The courses, pending feedback from the pilot, will likely be shorter (e.g. 6-8 weeks) to accommodate our service member’s schedules. Because the courses are delivered online, there is no requirement for time away from one’s duties.
● High Quality Academic Partners and Consortium - While the USNCC anticipates directly delivering Naval Core courses, among others, we also believe in partnering with the best institutions to deliver the education in a partnership model. We are partnering with a select group of the best colleges and universities for working adults, who are experts in the particular concentration or professional area.
● Military Friendly - The partner colleges are exceptional at providing high quality education to our enlisted service members, with a track record of positive results for the military, and policies that recognize the challenges of military service.
● Connection to Lifelong Learning - We will ensure, both as an institution, and as a consortium, we connect the service member to lifelong learning. We will work to maximize all appropriate transfer credit for our service members, based on their military training and responsibilities, prior credit, and ACE review. Moreover, we will build or access four year transfer pathways that will let the students seamlessly transfer their AS degrees into bachelor’s degrees with little to no loss of credit.
● Connection to Lifelong Learning, Part II - Finally, as these funded programs have the potential to allow service members to access associate level education at no cost, we are able to help our service members achieve certificates and degrees without incurring debt. In doing so, we are not only furthering operational readiness, but will ultimately support the growth of tens of thousands of individuals in achieving their academic goals.
On a personal level, the opportunity to join the Department of the Navy in developing its first-ever community college, to serve enlisted Sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen is an honor and a privilege. As we begin this endeavor providing greater access to naval-relevant college-level education for our enlisted service members, I reflect on General John A. LeJeune’s mission on developing young Marines (1920) where he imparts it is a responsibility of the military to not only build strong warfighters, but to return those service members to society as better citizens than when they began. It is my sincere hope the USNCC can play a small role in advancing that mission.