Many young Sailors join the Navy with the hopes of making a better place for themselves in the world. Today, very few employers offer the vast array of opportunities to a recent high school graduate like a career in the U.S. military. Within a year of graduating from high school, a student with an interest in car engines might be overhauling complex and versatile work trucks with the Marines, or doing maintenance on a state of the art aircraft engine, hundreds of miles away from shore. This comes at great cost to the Navy and no lack of effort on the part of a Sailor. Training pipelines vary, but it generally follows a similar path; recruit basic training, affectionately referred to as boot camp, followed by an “A” school, perhaps some more technical training and before they know it, Sailors, Marines and “Coasties” are on the deck plates in the fleet, working in a job they’ve been trained for and mastered to a level they are trusted to perform daily. Now, imagine putting all of that relevant training to work towards an academic goal recognized by civilian colleges and suitable for transferring to the civilian workforce. Imagine a professional certificate recognizing time spent in Navy classes awarding credit towards an associate’s degree. Now imagine this does not impact any existing education benefit, and can be stacked along with other credits and certificates to work towards a bachelor’s degree, and perhaps beyond. Imagine having the option to do all this, or not, within a single enlistment. Now, imagine no more, because it’s about to become a reality. In January of 2021 the United States Naval Community College (USNCC) is kicking off a pilot program with approximately 600 students from the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and the U.S. Coast Guard. These naval students, attending classes and giving feedback to the newly established educational institution, will lay the groundwork for the next step in bringing the education dreams of Sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen into reality. The USNCC is still years away from being available to the entire fleet, but that’s not stopping the development of what is described as a system of stackable achievements, completed over time, leading to a degree awarded by the Department of Navy (DoN) and recognized by civilian colleges and universities, according to Dr. Randi Cosentino, the President of the USNCC. “The goal is to have an associates of science degree,” Cosentino explained during a recent interview with the Defense Media Activity. “The importance of that is that it’s a transferable degree, that’s going to prepare that Sailor or Marine, not only to get a very practical degree that’s going to support military and operational readiness, but put them on a path to lifelong learning.” Cosentino explained the overall arc of the program is to establish a network of top community colleges and four year universities to develop a curriculum based around a series of Naval centric areas of focus, taking advantage of Sailors’ baseline knowledge and amplifying it with Naval Science courses. “We envision between 14 or 15 concentrations in areas that are relevant to the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard, that are going to help you not only be successful as a Sailor, Marine or Coast Guardsmen, not only today in your job, but prepare you for challenges for tomorrow,” she said. Cosentino is an experienced adult education expert with the credentials to establish such a program and give it credibility. She combines a doctorate of education from the University of Pennsylvania and a Masters of Business administration from Harvard with nearly 20 years of experience working to deliver online education for working adults. The USNCC is envisioned as a fully online institution, supporting the fact that Sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen are deployed around the globe, in a non-traditional classroom environment. “I think we have an incredibly unique opportunity here because we’re building it from the bottom up. We can make sure that what we’re building coincides with naval and fleet operations and what’s going on in the field,” she said. With her combined experience and the support of Naval leadership, the USNCC is well on its way to establishing a baseline following feedback from the pilot students, and expand operations within the next couple of years. Once the pilot is complete, the next phase of the initiative begins, expanding from the initial 500-600 students to nearly 5,000, hopefully extending to the entire fleet in the coming years. “We want to stay laser beam focused on making sure we’re delivering high quality associates degree programs designed to improve readiness, operations and support, that service members in ratings and MOS’ may use to prepare them for the future,” she emphasized, noting plans do not stop there. “As we move forward we envision expansions that may very well include certifications supporting career fields that may allow us to support a bachelors. In the interim, our goal is to put in place articulation agreements, meaning that when you’re graduating from the USNCC or one of our college partners, you have a clear and charted path to transfer to that four year degree with minimal or no-loss of credit.” Education is viewed by leadership as vital to gaining an edge in 21st century conflict. Cosentino echoes that sentiment in her vision of education for Department of the Navy personnel. “The Navy has incredible enlisted sailors and marines that are making things happen. The training they get and the work they do is critical to success, but as we continue to move to what is becoming a more complex environment in the 21st century, where there are new and emerging technologies, where there are new challenges, where there is the need to communicate in new ways to work with teams, the opportunity that you get from education is unparalleled,” she explained. The nuts and bolts of the program will be worked out with the pilot, but the movement is underway and the enthusiasm behind it is palpable. “One of the most exciting things of getting into that classroom is having that opportunity to have your junior enlisted along with your sergeant major all in the same room and folks can learn from each other. There is an opportunity to bring different experiences, to bring different levels of knowledge to the table and to test your own hypothesis and to push your own learning beyond where it has been,” Cosentino explained. “You can have folks share their own experiences, they can go right up against the boundaries of their own lived experience and can test what they have learned and what they have experienced and can hopefully push even beyond it.” The Navy has long invested in the physical fitness of Sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen, but now wants to make a more direct investment in their academic fitness. By honing the development of the minds of its Sailors the Navy, the Marine Corps and the Coast Guard hope it will directly contribute to the operational readiness of the Navy for the 21st century and beyond, allowing those pursuing a higher education to take advantage of time well spent in pursuit of Navy professions.