The Richmond Register

Local News

June 11, 2012

Kentucky soldiers earning degrees while in war zones

FORT KNOX — When she wasn’t working long shifts at an Afghanistan airfield, Spc. Andrea Muresan was studying and taking online courses in a war zone.

Muresan, a member of the Fort Knox-based sustainment command, recently donned a cap and gown with 30 other soldiers to receive distance learning degrees under a camouflage canopy at a Kandahar military post.

“If we can do it here in Afghanistan, then anyone can do it,” she said.

An increase in online course offerings and continued deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq over the last decade has led to a remarkable increase in the number of soldiers pursuing coursework in war zones, The Courier-Journal reported. It’s gone from almost none to 35,000 in 2011.

There has also been an increase since 9/11 in tuition assistance, raising distance and online enrollments for deployed soldiers from 48 percent of total coursework in 2004 to 78 percent in 2011, according to Fort Knox’s Army Human Resources Command.

It’s been a boon for soldiers who have struggled to earn a degree amid frequent reassignments.

Kentucky National Guard Sgt. Ashley Branson took criminal justice courses while at Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan between 2010 and 2011 on an agricultural mission. She studied in between missions and is now a year away from earning a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice at Eastern Kentucky University.

“When I got off work, there was nothing to do but study and work out. You might as well take advantage of it,” said Branson, who now lives in Georgetown, Ky.

The U.S. government has increased education benefits for soldiers and veterans by raising tuition-assistance benefits from $187 per semester hour to $250 in 2003. And in 2008, Congress approved the Post 9/11 GI Bill, which provided billions of dollars in educational benefits for veterans and their families.

The Army says there are more than 2,600 colleges offering coursework or distance learning to soldiers, up from a few dozen a decade ago. That includes the University of Louisville, which has 48 active-duty military enrolled in online courses, up from 25 in 2009, said online coordinator Mike Tyree.

But the rise in active-duty educational opportunities also has sparked heavy marketing by for-profit colleges, said Barmak Nassirian, a spokesman for the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers. Some of those colleges tend to have higher costs and lower retention, graduation and employment rates.

A congressional report last year citing Department of Defense data showed that $280 million of the $563 million spent on tuition assistance went to for-profit colleges.

That led President Barack Obama in April to require colleges marketing to veterans to be more transparent about offerings and career-placement outcomes. Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway recently urged Congress to require that military educational benefits follow a rule limiting for-profit college revenue from federal funding sources.

Sgt. Luis Galvez, 33, a Texas native who works as a liaison officer to the Fort Knox unit, was also at the recent Kandahar graduation ceremony. He wore a cap and gown, explaining later in an email that he had been motivated by wanting to set an example for his sons.

While there, he took five classes and finished a general associate’s degree he started in 2000.

“Once I get back, I will find a nice frame for the diploma and dedicate it to my boys. It will probably say ‘If Daddy can do it, so can you,’ “ he said.

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