Earning a college degree and serving in the military

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Tuesday, June 25th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: Earning a college degree. 

The advent of distance learning is making that easier than ever. A third of all college students take at least some online classes, according to Forbes.

EICHER: Distance learning is especially appealing to members of the military. Today WORLD Radio’s Kim Henderson takes us to a graduation ceremony held on what I have to believe is the most secure place on the East Coast: a military base home to more than 40,000 Marines.

SPEAKER: You may now move your tassels from the right to the left. [Cheers]

KIM HENDERSON, REPORTER: Among all those turning tassels and throwing mortarboards this graduation season, one group of graduates stood out.

AUDIO: [Sound of band playing “Pomp and Circumstance”]

Last month in Jacksonville, North Carolina, graduates from 18 colleges crossed the stage during a single graduation ceremony. The event took place at the Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune.

The graduates wore stoles with different school colors and had representatives from different colleges handing them diplomas. 

Yes, a lot of “different.” But it was nothing new for this military community. The ceremony represented the 24th year Lejeune’s commanding general has held such an event. Through a Voluntary Education Program, Marines are encouraged to take college classes to enhance their military careers as well as prepare for life after Lejeune.  

SPEAKER: Gideon Tony Friant, bachelor of science, information technology and security, summa cum laude… (APPLAUSE)

The diplomas ranged from associate degree to Ph.Ds. Most of those wearing caps and gowns didn’t attend a single class at their university’s main campus, though. Instead, they opted for classes in satellite campuses on base or they took the online route. 

Boston University was on hand to confer eight degrees. Coastal Carolina Community College gave out 63. Liberty University awarded six. 

SPEAKER: Would everyone please join in a round of applause for all of our 2019 graduates? (clapping) 

Distance learning is a big part of the draw at Liberty, the largest Christian university in the world. In 2016, nearly 90 percent of its student body took at least one online course. That’s some 67,000 students.   

Heidi Sharpe of the American Military University says internet instruction provides much-needed flexibility. 

But connectivity can be a big issue for students away on missions or living on bases in remote locations. When they finally find time to do their schoolwork, they might not be able to find Wi-Fi.

SHARPE: It’s not a 9 to 5 job as, you know. They have, um, field ops and they’re working, you know, over, overnight and deployments and everything. So it makes it difficult for them.

Some colleges make a special effort to be accessible to members of the military. Each year, marketing company Victory Media publishes a list of schools designated as military-friendly. Earning top marks in 20-19 are universities like Ball State in Indiana, Georgia State, Syracuse, and private Christian school Regent University. 

When potential students look for a college, the Military Friendly School designation stands out to those interested in using their VA educational benefits.

But for active-duty military like many of those at the Lejeune ceremony, tuition assistance will only get them so far. Determination is key.     

SHARPE: It takes a specific, specific and special individual, I think to be able to accomplish what everyone did today. 

In some cases, it also takes time. Lots of it. One of the graduates recognized during the ceremony was Marine Staff Sergeant David White. Beginning his quest in 2000 to earn a degree, he faithfully took one class each year. Nearly two decades later, he finally earned his bachelor of science in computer information systems.   

 Then you have over-achievers like Sergeant Jason Steadman. He’s a helicopter mechanic who registered for his first college class in 2017. And he’s already graduating with a four-year degree.

STEADMAN: So it was pretty difficult because I had to do every other weekend and sometimes weekends in a row, especially with a hurricane and winter season and all that. On top of it, I still detached from my unit. I went to ITX in 29 Palms, California. To Yuma, Arizona. I went to multiple different places. But I had to keep being a full-time student in every single place. Towards the end I was taking seven, six classes per semester to finish my degree.

Steadman’s new alma mater is Southern Illinois University. It has a satellite campus at the air station where Steadman served in North Carolina. But when he was away from the air station, completing assignments was challenging. 

STEADMAN: In 29 Palms, California, we were at Camp Wilson. It was in the middle of nowhere. We don’t have computers, no Wi-Fi, no cellular service. So I had to take trips to the main campus to go to their library because at that time I was writing a 25-page paper…

Steadman just finished his five-year commitment to the Marines on June 1st. Later this year, he’ll change military branches and become a member of the Air Force. His new degree makes it possible for him to enter as an officer. 

MUSIC: [Band playing the Marine Hymn]

For WORLD Radio, I’m Kim Henderson, reporting from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

(Photo/U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Ashley Gomez)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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One comment on “Earning a college degree and serving in the military

  1. Phillip Woeckener says:

    I was able to complete my first year of college while stationed at Camp Lejeune in the Marine Corps back in the late 80’s. I don’t know what sort of tuition assistance is offered now, but I was able to fund my college education because the Marine Corps paid for 75% of my tuition while I was on active duty. It’s a great way to earn your degree and do it debt free.

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