A Soldier’s Future Transformed through the Classroom
The military stance toward an advanced education historically runs in waves. The military would push education for awhile, then it would gradually become less important. This ebb and flow has offered a unique opportunity to provide education regardless of the cycle.
Currently, the enthusiasm for earning an education while serving in the military is cycling very high. It isn’t just that education is a valuable recruitment tool. With an increasingly sophisticated and competitive command structure inside the Armed Forces, and a global economic recession, education has become a precious commodity. For soldiers today, it’s hard not to go to school—because you can do it economically and conveniently.
I’ve been teaching military members—stateside and on bases—since 1980. I currently work with University of Phoenix, where I chair the School of Business at the Asia/Pacific Military Campus. As students, soldiers and their families offer unique challenges and substantial rewards. They are extremely disciplined. I teach in Okinawa, the overseas hub of the Western Pacific; where we draw soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. It doesn’t matter which branch of the service they come from, every student is motivated.
Challenges knowingly come with the logistics. The military is very mobile. You never know how long you’re going to be anywhere. For example: Until recently, very few of the folks stationed in Korea were ever there longer than a year—and there was no way they’d complete a degree program in less than a year. So, military members require an academic program with great flexibility; one that can offer continuity even if they’re deployed across the country, or the world, or to a place where they can only continue online. The fact that we teach the same curriculum with the same methods, anywhere they go, is very beneficial to soldiers. Some may see that as inflexible. For the student/soldier, it means a smooth transition in their studies when every other part of their life is chaotic.
Military members also respect—and respond to—programs that challenge them. I’m proud of the academic rigor in our degree programs. We provide a strong education, which military members appreciate because the focus is fresh and relevant to their experiences. It helps that our teaching model is very learner-centered. We facilitate their learning. This enables student-centered learning. For adult students, the hands-on approach offers a richer learning experience. They learn first-hand how procedures are done and how to do them better. There’s enough flexibility within that model to allow the learner to focus on what he or she believes is most important.
Military members also appreciate and benefit from applicability. They want to be able to take the skills they learn in the classroom and apply them in the “real world.” Most of our business curriculum applies not only to the corporate world, but to the military environment they face every day. The skills to lead in corporate America are even more necessary in the military. Financial principles resonate with anyone who has to prepare or manage a budget. It doesn’t matter whether you’re talking military leadership or human resource issues—people are people, and the strategies of working with them are the same. Strategic planning, time management, operations management—all of these principles directly translate into military experience. In fact, I haven’t found anything in our curriculum that I haven’t been able to connect to an aspect of military life for our students.
That kind of relevance is essential. Our students are very future-oriented. The most popular courses vary by location. The business program is universally very popular, particularly our MBA program. Teacher education is also extremely popular. We’ve also experienced an influx of students as education and training become more available.
I can tell my students are motivated and really want something from the program. If they’re headed for civilian life, they know they’re transitioning into a challenging economy. I recently heard someone say that most employers now regard a bachelor’s degree as entry-level. Even if a student wants to stay in the service, they’ll need the right credentials. Things change so fast, now—inside the military and in civilian life—that you have to constantly refine and update your skills to be ready for the future.
Education is critical, today. If you aren’t learning, you’re falling behind.
This article originally appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education, UOPX Campus Viewpoints section. To review our current faculty articles, visit: https://chronicle.com/campusViewpoint/University-of-Phoenix/29/.