Army boosts e-learning

Beginning this month, soldiers can access an online education no matter where they are.

Army Secretary Louis Caldera announced in December that an industry team led by PricewaterhouseCoopers won a $453 million award to create the Army University Access Online.

The program, billed as the world's biggest distance-learning portal, will allow soldiers to earn a technical certification or an associate's, bachelor's or master's degree.

It should help the Army recruit, train and retain technically savvy soldiers. The program is also an acknowledgment, Army leaders said, that the service competes more against higher education institutions than against the commercial job sector for young recruits.

Caldera calls the effort a way for soldiers to join the Army and continue their education, rather than only choose one.

Under the five-year contract, the team will build a distance learning portal for more than 80,000 soldiers and put in place the fundamental architecture needed for worldwide access. The initiative will begin at Fort Hood, Texas; Fort Campbell, Ky.; and Fort Benning, Ga.

Soldiers committing to the program will be assigned a laptop computer and printer, which will become theirs if they stick to the educational plan. The first three soldiers to sign up — Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Matthews, Sgt. Christopher Jones and Staff Sgt. Keva Wallace — attended the contract announcement and were awarded Compaq Computer Corp. Presario laptops and color printers.

"I think this program's great," Jones said. "Lucky for me, I get the free computer and 100 percent of my tuition paid for. This program can open the door for many people to serve their country and attain their personal goals at the same time."

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