Michael M. Crow and John Paul Parker
Defense guest columnists
Following the longest conflict in our nation's
history, the United States is about to downsize its Army. The "inside-the-beltway"
policy debates now underway are focused squarely on how many soldiers we need,
and can afford. This is the wrong focus. History demonstrates that the nation's
defense planners cannot accurately foresee where we will need to send our
soldiers, nor what we will ask them to do. What we do know is that wherever we
send soldiers will be a complex and dangerous environment where we will expect
them to be flexible, innovative, and adaptive in order to deal with unforeseen
contingencies and emergent threats.
Consequently, the number of soldiers we employ is
becoming less singularly meaningful than the qualities of the soldiers who
serve. Army Chief of Staff General Raymond Odierno has described the
characteristics of the Army of the future: "Army leaders accept that there
are no predetermined solutions to problems. Army leaders adapt their thinking,
formations, and employment techniques to the situation they face. This requires
an adaptable and innovative mind, a willingness to accept prudent risk in
unfamiliar and changing conditions, and an ability to adjust based on
continuous assessment... we must be flexible in the face of adversity, and agile
in our responsiveness." The Marines popularized the notion of a "strategic
corporal," which represents the need for lower-ranking soldiers to
exercise independent judgment and make leadership decisions that can have
strategic impacts in complex and rapidly changing battlefield conditions.
Budget constraints and other factors will ensure that
the Army of tomorrow will have fewer soldiers, but we will increasingly need
them to operate more independently, and be agile and innovative. That can't be
done with technology or organizational changes alone. Moreover, uncertainty
about the future suggests that what soldiers of tomorrow will need is more
broad-based knowledge and education, and not more drills and rote training. It's
time to require every soldier entering the force to have a college degree.
Education as a game changer
The G.I. Bill helped transform the nation's army into
participants in the educated workforce that built modern America. But the same
education that helped soldiers succeed in civilian life is now needed during
their service to the nation. A revolution in academia is just getting underway
which offers the potential to give a cost-effective, multidisciplinary
education to our soldiers, and to a large degree the cost is already being paid
for by existing military benefit programs: a huge advantage in the cash
strapped times ahead.
The revolution in education will allow the military
(and others) to use adaptive learning techniques and other new methods to
accelerate, deepen, and enhance learning. These new advanced approaches to
learning will allow community colleges, colleges, and universities to serve the
nation by preparing new master learners for national service. By combining
traditional classroom instruction with online technologies that deliver
interactive content, monitor individual progress, and accommodate multiple
learning styles, we can deliver an education that is customized to the student
and which speeds learning while lowering costs. In pilot tests conducted at
Arizona State University, students in advanced math courses that utilized these
techniques saw success rates jump from 65% to 90%. Additionally, students
demonstrated mastery of the material at a much faster rate than by traditional
methods. By emphasizing a multidisciplinary approach, a tailored associate's
degree can help soldiers develop vital skills in critical thinking,
communication, and collaboration while offering exposure to foreign cultures,
political and economic trends, and technology and systems thinking. Solving
complex problems requires less doctrine and more experimentation and
adaptation. A degree that provides knowledge and techniques from various
disciplines will become a solid foundation for dealing with unpredictable
situations of the type we increasingly see our soldiers confronting.
Nice idea, but how do we pay for
The military services already offer generous
educational benefits for its members, including tuition assistance and the G.I.
Bill, which will pay for college after service in the military. If we accept
that the benefits of a college education are increasingly vital to soldiers,
then we must shift the focus and financial resources of existing programs from
being merely a recruitment tool that rewards service, to being a requirement
that empowers our soldiers and capitalizes on our investment while the soldier
is in the Army. Initial efforts would focus on providing soldiers an associate's
degree prior to their entering the active duty force, and perhaps reserving a
portion of their educational benefits for the completion of a bachelor's degree
later in their career.
While the nation debates the future of the Army,
students are confronting increasing educational debt and numerous experts are
calling for some form of national service. Giving incoming soldiers a college
education not only bolsters their ability to succeed on the battlefields of
tomorrow, it offers a way for young Americans to get an education and serve their
nation without incurring a potentially crippling financial burden.
America's higher educational system has always been
one of our nation's "secret weapons." It's time to put that weapon
directly in the hands of our soldiers.
Michael M. Crow is the president of Arizona State University. John
Paul Parker is a fellow in the office of the Chief of Staff of the Army. This
article represents his own personal views, which are not necessarily those of
the U.S. Army.