Sailors Earn Degrees at Sea

Military GI Bill
Military GI Bill

Sailors on approximately 85 ships underway Aug. 4 are finding time to take college courses through Navy College Program for Afloat College Education (NCPACE).

The Center for Personal and Professional Development's (CPPD) NCPACE program provides educational opportunities to Sailors at eligible sea duty commands comparable to what's available to those on shore duty, and many Sailors are reaping the benefits.

For example, upon USS Carl Vinson's (CVN 70) June 1 return from a six-month deployment, 794 Sailors aboard had completed 30 college courses through NCPACE. The ship used the NCPACE Instructor Led (IL) Program, successfully completing three IL college terms. During this time, 30 courses were taught by 13 instructors. These 794 came from 892 total enrollments, resulting in a completion rate of 89 percent.

"Sea duty is demanding enough on its own, and completing three full college terms while on deployment is an amazing accomplishment," said CPPD Commanding Officer Capt. Chuck Hollingsworth. "USS Carl Vinson's NCPACE team led an aggressive program, and Sailors responded in kind. These Sailors' level of commitment to personal and professional development is truly impressive."

Offering academic skills and college-level undergraduate and graduate courses from regionally accredited learning institutions, NCPACE is a great deal for Sailors, according to Dr. Mary Redd-Clary, director of CPPD's Voluntary Education program. The program covers 100 percent of tuition costs, so students pay solely for textbooks and course materials.

"This is a great benefit for Sailors who take advantage of the opportunity," said Redd-Clary. "The Navy College Program provides many ways for Sailors to complete course work toward a degree, and NCPACE is one facet available specifically for students at sea."

Since the institutions offering undergraduate courses are affiliated with Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges Navy (SOCNAV), Sailors are able to transfer course credits from the schools they take courses from while on deployment to their chosen college/university toward completion of their degree.

So far in fiscal 2011, ships that have returned from deployment reported 4,087 Sailors completing 258 instructor-led college courses and 38 academic skills courses in reading, writing and mathematics through NCPACE. On average, 140 courses per week are taught through the program.

The NCPACE program began in the early 1970s when the Navy started providing Sailors on Polaris submarines with educational films they could view while off duty. The program took a step forward in 1973 when civilian instructors began teaching courses aboard selected surface ships. The next year, the Program for Afloat College Education (PACE) program was fully funded with the exception of textbooks. In 1987, PACE added a technology component, which is now called distance learning (DL). Today, NCPACE provides courses in both IL and DL formats for commands with Type 2 and 4 Unit Identification Codes (UICs).

All students interested in taking NCPACE IL and DL courses must first attend an NCPACE Orientation Services session, during which they are briefed on the NCPACE program, administered any necessary course placement testing, and provided individual counseling.

For the IL program, qualified NCPACE instructors deploy with ships and offer undergraduate and graduate courses in a shipboard classroom environment. USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) was the first ship to offer IL graduate-level courses with an instructor teaching onboard. Undergraduate courses in English, math, history, speech, sociology and business management were also offered.

DL courses do not require Internet access and are provided via CD-ROM, PDA and iPod. First-time DL students are screened by Navy College Office (NCO) counselors during an NCPACE orientation session and limited to one course for their first term.

"Academic skills classes are especially beneficial to Sailors subject to Perform to Serve needing to retake their ASVAB, those having difficulties passing their advancement exam, and those preparing to start college," said Redd-Clary. Sailors who successfully complete these classes receive a certificate of completion that can be used to help meet eligibility requirements to retake the ASVAB exam.

Eligible commands wanting to provide Sailors education opportunities through NCPACE should contact their local NCO to schedule orientation, during which an NCO representative will brief command leadership on the NCPACE program. Sailors are also briefed by a NCO counselor on the NCPACE IL and/or DL programs. Sailors may receive counseling to develop an Individual Education Plan as required by policy outlined in NAVADMIN 105/10 to use NCPACE.

"NCPACE ensures that Sailors are provided access to education opportunities regardless of where they are assigned," said Hollingsworth. "One of our goals at CPPD is to serve Sailors, and we try to do that around the world, even when underway and forward deployed."

Additional information on the NCPACE program and other Voluntary Education programs can be found at the CPPD Navy College Program website at

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