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Air University working with Congress to offer new degrees

MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- Air University officials are working with members of Congress for authorization to grant three new degrees.

U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Mobile, recently proposed an amendment to the defense authorization bill that will give the university degree-granting authority for a doctorate of philosophy in strategic studies, master of flight test engineering and master of air, space and cyberspace.

Because the university is a federal institution, Congress must first approve degree-granting authority to the university before it can pursue accreditation through the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, or SACS.

SACS accredits more than 13,000 schools and school systems throughout the United States and overseas, and it plays a key role in evaluating and ensuring Air University meets specific standards and requirements for accreditation.

"I look at SACS as the academic 'Red Team' that measures us against best practices," said Dr. Bruce Murphy, Air University chief academic officer. "Without that, we would not have a benchmark to know just how well we are preparing our Airmen."

Much of the ground work is already in place for two of the proposed degrees.

The Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., closely resembles an academic degree program, Dr. Murphy said. With a "little tweaking," the course is ready for accreditation. Once SACS accredits the course, the Test Pilot School will offer the master of flight test engineering degree. The program will run very much as it is today, Dr. Murphy said. A major difference is that the school will be affiliated with Air University.

"This is a great example of 'giving credit where credit is due' in that the program was already essentially in place," Dr. Murphy said. "Awarding degrees and assuring they are worthy of accreditation raises standards for these programs and assures we maintain a standard of excellence."

The concept for a Ph.D. in strategic studies is that a handful of the top graduates of the School for Advanced Air and Space Studies will return to Air University to participate in the new Ph.D. degree program. Once the Air Force identifies SAASS graduates to attend Air War College, the graduates will return to AU to write their dissertation and receive their doctorate. Air University will credit those completing the dissertation with the equivalent of Air War College attendance in residence, giving them the joint professional military education required to serve in a joint force.

The new degree is not intended to change the present SAASS program to a Ph.D. program. It is intended to allow Air Force officers to stay current in their jobs while earning the degree.

The Air Force needs a few "warrior scholars" at the highest level, Dr. Murphy said. To do that, Air Force officials send them to a civilian university for three years of graduate study. While at the school, the officers are, in effect, out of the "flow" in terms of deployments or other regular Air Force duties. This program will keep them in the flow doing all the things they need to keep current in their careers.

Senior officers with these degrees and combat experience will be able to "walk the halls of Congress" and talk with people at the highest levels of government about Air Force needs and national policy, Dr. Murphy said.

The master of air, space and cyberspace degree will involve resident study and distance learning. University officials envision a mix of resident and distance learning to deliver the coursework, which primarily targets company grade officers, Dr. Murphy said.

Authorization to grant the degrees is "in conference" at the moment, but Dr. Murphy said he hopes they will be a part of the next defense authorization bill. Once approved by Congress, SACS will review the program and accredit it, a process that can take up to two years.
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