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Petty Officer 2nd Class Elias Sanchez, 32, is near earning a Master's Degree in human relations from the University of Oklahoma's satellite campus in Naples, Italy. He praised Navy leaders' efforts to make higher education a priority for sailors, saying the complexity of today's world really requires sailors to get college-level degrees.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Elias Sanchez, 32, is near earning a Master's Degree in human relations from the University of Oklahoma's satellite campus in Naples, Italy. He praised Navy leaders' efforts to make higher education a priority for sailors, saying the complexity of today's world really requires sailors to get college-level degrees. (Sandra Jontz / S&S)

WASHINGTON — Enlisted sailors may have to hit the books if they want to reach the highest ranks.

A new Navy military education policy, which in part guides professional development for all sailors, outlines general goals for emphasizing continuing education courses and college-level degrees for all enlisted personnel.

Ed Barker, spokesman for the Naval Education and Training Command, said officials hope by 2010 to mandate associate and bachelor’s degrees for sailors advancing to senior ranks, though no specific timetables or benchmarks have been set.

“The goal is to tell a young [sailor] now that if he plans to make senior chief, he should include education,” he said. “There is going to come a time when, if you don’t have that degree, it could hurt you.”

In announcing the education proposals last month, Vice Adm. Alfred G. Harms Jr. said higher education is essential for enlisted servicemen “to better prepare them to operate tomorrow’s fleet” and to ensure they are prepared to take over leadership roles in the Navy.

Currently servicemen being promoted to the highest enlisted ranks must graduate from the Navy’s Senior Enlisted Academy in Rhode Island. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. David Egermier, spokesman for the academy, said the proposed rule change likely would not affect operations there, since most of their courses are specialized military management lessons.

“Their thrust here is not to get college credits, even though some of our courses count as undergraduate credits,” he said. “But it’s understood that it helps everyone to have a degree.”

Petty Officer 2nd Class Elias Sanchez, 32, is working on a master’s degree in human relations from the University of Oklahoma’s satellite campus in Naples, Italy, and called the proposal a “positive challenge” for all sailors.

“It’s made me a better sailor,” he said. “I feel more confident, and the more and better the education, the better my world view. The way the world is, it’s so complicated, we need more formal studies.”

Navy leaders have been supportive in encouraging sailors to pursue higher education when they’re assigned to shore duty, Sanchez said. Next, they’ll have to tackle making it easy to earn degrees while underway on ship.

Officials from the other services said none requires collegiate degrees for promotion through the enlisted ranks, although all three do consider higher education as a major factor in military advancement.

Cmdr. Ron Hill, spokesman for the Chief of Naval Personnel, said about 2.5 percent of the Navy’s enlisted sailors have bachelor’s degrees or higher. Naval equipment and support services are becoming more complex, he said, and the sailors will have to keep up with those demands.

“It’s another way to create healthy competition for promotions,” Hill said. “It’s about trying to create a slightly more selective force.”

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