Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Step up, Step in: Pursuing higher education

by Airman 1st Class Ryan Conroy
31st Fighter Wing Public Affairs

8/25/2014 - AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy  -- Juggling a full-time career, volunteer positions and a family may cause education to fall by the wayside, but a short trip to the education center allows Airmen the opportunity to ask questions or talk to college representatives to ensure that they're taking full advantage of their education benefits.

The U.S. Air Forces in Europe initiative, "Step up, Step in," stresses the fundamental need for education in today's Air Force and encourages pursuing educational goals while serving overseas.

"I wouldn't be where I am today if it wasn't for the education I received while I was enlisted," said retired Chief Master Sgt. Don Schroder, 31st Force Support Squadron educational services. "I served 30 years and retired in 2010. Education can prolong your Air Force career and when your time in the military comes to a close. Now is the time to set a plan and take advantage of the opportunities available to you now to set yourself up for the future."

Schroder stressed that an Airman's education is taken more and more into consideration for career advancement each year, and that the standards are only going to increase. When service members are in contention for a promotion or special duty assignment, their education level and degrees are taken into account and can make a difference when it's time for selection.

"What you're doing is improving yourself--essentially," said Schroder. "Obtaining a degree opens doors for you all over to include: quarterly awards, high rates on the enlisted performance review and promotions."

While career progression is one major driving force in obtaining a higher education degree, it is not the only one. Schroeder says utilizing the opportunities given today can help Airmen realize success in the future.

"All my years in the Air Force were just background when applying for my jobs - my degree is what pushed me forward," said Schroder. "Although experience plays a role, the education makes you more marketable. It shows those you work for and those who work for you that you're taking and took the initiative to improve yourself."

Schroder said the education and training center also offers a variety of voluntary educational opportunities.

Central Texas College, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, the University of Maryland University College and the University of Oklahoma all have offices located within the education and training center and offer on-base and online classes for certificates, associate, bachelor and master degree programs.

In addition to the convenience of these programs, the Air Force Tuition Assistance program can provide up to 100 percent tuition coverage for active-duty military members.

The education and training center also offers a voluntary education examination for credit program that allows active-duty military and family members the opportunity to challenge college subject areas through exams and gain semester hour credit, he added.

"If there's one thing I wish more people used, it would be the free College Level Examination Programs we offer," said Schroeder. "People don't take enough advantage of the opportunity to earn credits toward their degree without having to take a whole class."

Schroeder admits his reasons for pushing Airmen towards higher education are to make the Air Force better as a whole.

"What I'm trying to say is be the best Airman you can be," said Schroeder. "I wish more people would get more involved in their education because the better you make yourself, the better you make the Air Force."

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