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First things first: Get degrees in order

Published: 11:07AM October 11th, 2012

KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan — In 1972 the Community College of the Air Force was established by the Air Force Chief of Staff, General John D. Ryan.

Four years later, President Gerald Ford authorized the Air Force to confer the associate degree. The CCAF was accredited in the start of 1977 and by that spring it awarded its first Associates of Applied Science.

This year the CCAF is expected to award the 400,000th AAS degree, an impressive achievement for the college and a testament to the character of the Air Force enlisted corps.

Unfortunately, some view the CCAF as a degree mill and discount the value of the degree.

Frankly, the investments toward the professional development of our own Airmen can’t be matched by any corporation or any other service — it’s foolish to undermine the efforts of nearly half a million Airmen.

Our enlisted corps is a highly-motivated, well-educated force, and the numbers back it up.

How do we keep them focused on the importance of completing their CCAF first?

I’ve reviewed countless Enlisted Performance Reports and award nominations that highlight a member’s progress towards a baccalaureate degree. At first glance this looks great, balancing school and work isn’t easy but upon further review many have not completed their CCAF degree.

This tells me the member is more focused on their personal goals than taking care of the Air Force’s fundamental educational expectations. Some leaders offer guidance and encourage their subordinates to transfer their baccalaureate degree courses to CCAF so they get credit. But again, this is another step that reinforces the notion that the CCAF should be an afterthought and not at the forefront.

As enlisted leaders we are charged to deliberately develop our force. In the realm of education we must focus our subordinates on the importance of attaining their CCAF degree first.

This starts with properly approaching Career Development Courses with the right attitude. Upon completion of CDCs and in conjunction with on-the-job and up-grade training, members receive college credits; remind your Airmen they are in fact completing college level courses through their CDCs.

We have a tendency to reward our Airmen for CDC completion by allowing them to pursue their bachelor’s degree. Instead, we should continue to mentor our Airmen and keep them focused on their AAS. Once the first part of their education is completed we can focus them on the other approximately 16 semester hours of classes they need for completion of their CCAF degree.

Individuals may only participate in CCAF degree programs designed for their Air Force occupations because it is the best at developing its workforce for leadership and technical challenges. The 64 CCAF degree programs are tailored to address those issues.

Completion of a CCAF degree helps members progress from apprentice to journeyman and onto craftsman. Of the 64 credit hours required for the CCAF AAS, 24 are in technical education, accomplished through technical school, OJT, UGT and the CDCs. The Air Force views the AAS as an important leadership step for which civilian degrees can’t be substituted. The force benefits by having a team of educated leaders, managers and Airmen.

The road to educational excellence starts with understanding the value of the CCAF AAS degree, accepting and tackling CDC, UGT, OJT as college level courses and not treating the completion of the CCAF AAS degree as a secondary goal, but making it our primary purpose and fulfilling the Air Force’s educational expectations before seeking out further educational opportunities.