Fly Higher With An Air Force Education through Military Service

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The US military is known for the excellent job training it provides to servicemen and -women. Foremost amongst the branches is the Air Force, which relies heavily on sophisticated technology and skills. In addition to technical training, the US Air Force also offers a vast number of opportunities for airmen and prospective airmen to earn higher degrees in exchange for military service.

College Opportunities for Students and Graduates

Anyone who holds a high school diploma or GED can enlist in the Air Force, and when they do, they are automatically enrolled in the Community College of the Air Force (CCAF), the largest community college in the United States. Starting basic training, learning their trade and acquiring technical training will earn college credit, which can be supplemented by other voluntary, off-duty courses. All of this contributes to an associate of science degree in aircraft and missile maintenance, electronics and telecommunications, public and support services, logistics and resources or allied health. Another option for aspirant airmen is the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFROTC) program, which is available at more than 1,100 colleges throughout the nation. Three- and four-year scholarships are available for high school and college students who demonstrate academic aptitude and leadership prowess. As members of AFROTC, cadets will pursue their major while also taking elective courses in leadership and aerospace studies; these courses are taught by commissioned officers who also hold the position of professor at the college. In exchange for their education, cadets are expected to serve for four years after graduation.

Others Opportunities for Enlisted Airmen

Beyond directly enrolling in CCAF or AFROTC, the Air Force offers multiple avenues for active duty airmen to pursue higher education and technical training. One of these is the Scholarship for Outstanding Airmen to ROTC (SOAR), which places enlisted men and women in two- to four-year degree programs that encompass technical and nontechnical disciplines, health and foreign languages. Another is the Airmen Scholarship and Commissioning Program, which provides tuition and fees for airmen to study full time for a bachelor’s degree and to ultimately earn their officer’s commission. Similarly, the Professional Officer Course-Early Release Program (POC-ERP) places active-duty airmen in AFROTC, but only if they are within two years of completing their bachelor’s degree and commissioning requirements. After earning their degree and their commission, they will serve for another four years as an officer. Medical specialists are particular in-demand in the Air Force right now. To accommodate their need, the Air Force offers a couple of ways for airmen to complete medical training while serving. The Nurse Enlisted Commissioning Program (NECP) allows enlistees to earn their bachelor’s in nursing while participating in an AFROTC program, while the Physician’s Assistant Training Program provides an education in the medical care of servicemen and women.

The Air Force Academy

For airmen and aspiring airmen, the Air Force Academy is the holy grail of a military education. The academy provides a high-quality education—valued at $400,000—at no monetary cost to the cadet, who will in exchange serve as an officer in the Air Force upon graduation. Admissions, as you may guess, are quite competitive; in addition to rigorous academic and physical screenings, hopeful cadets must also earn the nomination of a congressman or the vice president of the United States. Enlisted airmen with leadership and academic potential may also be nominated by their unit and wing commanders, either for admission to the academy itself or to the Air Force Academy Prep School, a 10-month program designed to prepare candidates for appointment. Cadets attending the academy pay no tuition. They receive free room and board, medical care, plus a monthly stipend. They also have the option of acquiring low-cost life insurance and interest-free loans in the event of financial emergencies. The academy itself offers 27 different majors and three minors, all oriented on producing capable military officers of the highest intellectual and moral fiber.

Funding for Non-Air Force Education

All of the programs discussed thus far have all involved enrollment in an academic program run at least partially or even wholly by the Air Force itself. But the Air Force does also provide funding for airmen to pursue education on their own time and terms. Air Force Tuition Assistance allows active-duty personnel to pursue off-duty, voluntary education. This tuition assistance pays up to $250 per college credit hour, capped at $4,500 per year. The Post-9/11 GI Bill also pays for eligible airmen to pursue undergraduate and graduate degrees, vocational and technical schooling, and it provides for tutoring, books, supplies, and housing. The older Montgomery GI Bill, dating from World War II, can be used to obtain degrees and certifications, attend flight school, and pursue apprenticeships and on-the-job training. Both versions of the GI Bill can be utilized by active-duty airmen and remain payable for several years after they leave active duty. The Post-9/11 GI Bill may also be transferrable to spouses and children. No matter their situation, airmen with academic aptitude and aspiration has many avenues for pursuing their education. Whether aiming for an officer commission or just personal fulfillment, the Air Force provides a wealth of resources for professional and personal fulfillment through learning.