Air & Space Power Journal - Español Tercer Trimestre 2005
By Joan Prichard and Jim Larkins
When considering returning to college, most people envision long nights spent burning the midnight oil and toiling over the next class assignment. But in most cases, students agree it's worth the effort. After all, educational opportunities weren't always so easily accessible. At least, that was the case for enlisted Air Force members. During the early 1970s, the United States Air Force emerged as a sophisticated, high tech industry with more than 72 percent of its career specialties classified as such. With the growth in technology, Air Force noncommissioned officers (NCOs) began assuming more midlevel managerial responsibilities, and it became apparent that NCOs needed more educational opportunities to prepare for their responsibilities within a challenging and dynamic Air Force.
With this realization, the Air Force developed a concept that would have a dramatic impact on the educational opportunities and quality of life for noncommissioned officers. In 1972 a USAF commander's conference addressed the issues of how to provide quality educational opportunities to Air Force enlisted personnel. What emerged from that discussion eventually took shape as the Community College of the Air Force. CCAF first opened its doors in April 1972 at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas, with the mission of enhancing the skills of NCOs as technicians, leaders, and citizens.
Prior to the establishment of CCAF, there were several obstacles for Airmen to earn a degree. The quality and depth of Air Force training was largely unrecognized by the civilian world. There was no process in place to fully document Air Force training in a format civilian colleges would readily accept and systematically apply toward a degree program. To compound the problem, most degree programs did not accommodate an Airman's schedule or job demands. Those pursuing degrees often lost course credits as they moved from one duty station to another. It was not unusual to find Airmen with 150 credit hours of course work but unable to complete a degree because of the inability to transfer credit from one institution to another. Considering these pitfalls, it was little wonder Airmen didn't take advantage of the educational opportunities available to them. Unless they were capable of completing a four-year baccalaureate program, they saw little correlation between education and career growth.
Today CCAF is considered one of the most progressive educational programs ever developed for men and women in uniform. Students, once frustrated by the lack of recognition for Air Force training, can now apply their Air Force training and professional military education to an associate in applied science degree. The curriculum provides a comprehensive education. In addition to learning required technical skills, students also complete course work in written and oral communication, humanities, mathematics, and social sciences. The college offers 67 degree programs targeted at improving job performance and increasing the prestige of the Air Force as a military career.
Measuring up to its role as the largest community college in the world, CCAF has about 366,000 students and 100 affiliated Air Force schools worldwide.
CCAF provides our nation with a valuable human resource—an enlisted force that is better educated and more confident. It provides degree opportunities for those from
diverse socioeconomic backgrounds who may not have previously known the personal and professional benefits of higher education.
A well-trained and professional enlisted force is the key to readiness in an uncertain world. CCAF plays an important role in providing the skills future generations of enlisted leaders will need to adapt to new requirements while directing a smaller force. Even in this day of downsizing, more Airmen are realizing their personal impact on the future of the Air Force and the role education plays in getting them ready for increasingly complex leadership responsibilities. Education pays off in terms of Air Force recruiting and retention as well. Air Force recruits surveyed in Basic Military Training consistently indicate "Continue college education on active duty" as the most important reason for joining the Air Force. In a "Career Decisions" survey conducted in September 2000, career-oriented enlisted personnel selected the "Opportunity for education and training" as the third most important reason for staying in the Air Force.
The future belongs to those willing to compete in a changing world; and, for those who seek knowledge as a guide, CCAF will continue to provide the best in Air Force educational opportunities for NCOs.
The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.
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