The United States Naval Community College pilot program is underway.

Almost 600 students from the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard are participating in the pilot program, which has been in the works since 2019, when the Navy announced that it was unveiling an “Education for Seapower” campaign to enhance the service’s intellectual advancement.

“It is imperative we have a more educated enlisted force, grounded in the understanding of current events, allowing them to add context to the actions they may be ordered to do,” Secretary of the Navy Kenneth Braithwaite said in a news release Jan. 7. “This will provide a critical advantage in any scenario, but specifically to the understanding of how they fit into our overall strategic goals and objectives.”

Northern Virginia Community College, the University of Arizona, the University of Maryland Global Campus, Alexandria Technical and Community College and the State University System of New York (SUNY Online) have all partnered to provide enlisted sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen a web of educational opportunities under the pilot program.

“Now that we’ve identified our collaborating schools we can move forward with our program to ensure we offer the best education to our service members and benefit all those involved,” Dr. Randi Cosentino, president of the United States Naval Community College, said in a Navy news release.

This year’s pilot program will be conducted from January to June and another round of the pilot program is slated for 2022. Those participating in this round of the pilot program were chosen per the recommendation from their chain of command.

“The pilot will allow us to collect important data that will inform the development of the USNCC,” Cosentino added. “Working in consortium with leading colleges will help us explore outcomes around the design of the program, the processes involved, working relationships and overall impact.”

Service members have the option to study nuclear field, cyber security, data analytics, English, math, and naval ethics as part of the initial pilot program — with more areas of study added as part of the second phase.

Then-Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer disclosed plans for the community college in February 2019 as part of an initial effort to create a Naval University system that can provide educational opportunities spanning from associates degrees to post-graduate degrees for service members.

This effort would streamline existing institutions such as U.S. Naval Academy, Naval War College, Marine Corps University and Naval Postgraduate School under one Naval University system umbrella. As a result, the objective is one that “integrates and aligns naval education to the need of the enterprise,” Spencer wrote at the time.

Braithwaite stressed that this initiative is particularly timely, given the competition with near peer competitors such as Russia and China.

“We are in an era of great power competition,” Braithwaite said. “Any advantage we can achieve over an adversary will increase our warfighting prowess. Innovating solutions through improvement of critical thinking skills will only serve to give our leaders more flexibility in the effective and efficient deployment of our naval forces.”

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