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Education opens doors to opportunity

  • Published
  • By Col. Tony England
  • 17th Mission Support Group

During my 35 years of active duty service, I have witnessed a steady increase in the amount of college experience that our enlisted folks are receiving before raising their right hand to serve in today’s United States military.

Today’s youth are earning college credits during high school, and some are completing one to four years or more of college before deciding to join the military.  Our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines are joining for not only patriotic reasons but to satisfy a thirst for self-improvement. With this caliber of outstanding performers entering the military, individuals are finding that pursuing a degree program is a great way to set themselves apart from their peers. They are learning that education can not only set the stage for future promotions but can open doors to opportunity.   

Pursuing higher education provides much more than just a means for a competitive edge. Our education levels can play a big part in how we approach problem-solving and decision-making. College education and other forms of training give us different skill sets and more diverse knowledge of different points of views, making us stronger as a team and giving us a more competitive edge against our adversaries. It’s up to each of us to take the necessary steps toward continuing our education to improve our knowledge and to give us the tools we need to contribute to the overall mission. 

I highly encourage all enlisted members to take the first step to complete a college education by checking to see what their particular requirements are and how many credits they have already earned toward a Community College of the Air Force degree. In addition, a little known fact is that the CCAF degree is open to all service branches, especially if you are an instructor teaching Air Force students. In 2019, over 130 Airmen and other service members at Goodfellow earned their CCAF, joining over 22,000 military members that received their degree that year. Let me also add that I, too, am a recipient of the CCAF degree program. I can personally testify that my CCAF opened doors of opportunity for me and will do the same for you. Here’s my story:

My parents were high school dropouts who eventually gained their General Education Development high school equivalent diplomas while raising a family of three children. They provided a happy and safe home environment and earned enough income to provide my siblings and me with all the necessities we needed growing up. They highly encouraged me to complete high school and to take steps in making my financial lifestyle better than theirs, but there was no real pressure to go any further. Once a high school graduate, I had no desire to attend any college and immediately enlisted in the U.S. Air Force. Little did I know, I was already on my way to gaining a college education through Basic Military Training and my initial and upgrade Air Force Specialty Code training.

Fast-forward approximately eight years, Staff Sgt. England landed in an office that highly encouraged higher education. My supervisor had received her CCAF degree and proudly displayed it on the wall above her desk.  She was actively pursuing her bachelor’s. Additionally, our Chief had his CCAF, a bachelor’s, and a master’s degree, proudly displaying diplomas in his office. Both individuals inspired me to begin my journey to receive a CCAF degree. They pushed me to attend lunchtime, and after work classes, and within 18 months, I too had a CCAF certificate to display. Like a spark that turns into a wildfire, I caught the education bug and continued my journey to receive a bachelor’s degree. My CCAF certificate was the foundation of the educational background that I needed to transform from enlisted to officer in the U.S. Air Force. 

Within the Air Force, a direct correlation between rank and education levels is evident by the following numbers. Air Force Personnel Center shows that 82 percent of our Airman tier has some college, 3 percent have an associate degree, and almost 2 percent have either a bachelor’s or master’s degree.

In our noncommissioned officer tier, 40 percent have at the minimum an associate degree, 10 percent have a bachelor’s, and 1 percent have a master’s degree. Once our enlisted force reaches the Senior NCO tier, that number goes up drastically. Fifty-one percent of SNCOs have at least an associate degree, 31 percent have a bachelor’s degree, and 11 percent have their master’s degree.

In closing, I highly recommend to anyone interested in learning how to start their college plans is first to visit Goodfellow’s Education Services Office. I admit that it takes dedication and perseverance to complete all the classes required; however, an Education Counselor can help you develop a customized plan to complete courses and make your way through each step. Whether an associate, bachelor’s, or master’s, by earning your degree and increasing your educational level, you too can open doors of opportunity.

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