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, by law, to confer the associate degree. The CCAF was accredited during the start of 1977 and by the spring of that same year, it awarded its first Associates of Applied Science degree.
This year, the CCAF is expected to award the 400,000th AAS degree since the college’s establishment. This milestone stands as an impressive achievement for the college and a testament to the character of the men and women who make up our 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.
According to official records as of October 2012, out of the 412,000 Airmen serving in the Air Force, you will find 77,343 with associate degrees, 29,487 with a bachelor’s, 5,090 master’s degrees and 88 who have reached the highest academic levels and have earned a doctorate or professional degree.
As we continue to challenge our enlisted corps to chase educational goals, they will continue to reach more educational milestones, however for some the accomplishment of their AAS degree through the CCAF takes a backseat, as they pursue their own interests. As a result, these well-meaning Airmen have their educational goals operating in reverse.
How do we keep them focused on the importance of completing their CCAF first?
From personal experience, I’ve reviewed countless Enlisted Performance Reports and award nominations that highlight a member’s progress toward 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 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 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 CDC 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.
It is customary to prohibit members in undergraduate training or who are enrolled in CDCs to simultaneously be enrolled in off-duty civilian education. We advise our Airmen that when their CDCs and UGT are complete, they can then take college courses. This guidance is misleading. We should be telling our Airmen that because of the CCAF and their CDCs they are already enrolled in college and taking college courses.
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 their efforts on the other approximately 16 semester hours of classes they need to complete their CCAF degree. Typically, Airmen will enroll in a bachelor’s degree plan to further their educational goals; however, the focus should be on accomplishing the CCAF degree requirements rather than pursuing an advanced degree from the beginning.
An Airman would be much better served if their advancement toward a BA or BS degree would be the by-product of their pursuit toward the AAS through the CCAF not vice versa. We need to remind our Airmen why CCAF accomplishment is important.
Some will say that CCAF completion is important because without it a member hurts their promotion potential, but leaders need to look at the bigger picture.
Individuals may only participate in CCAF degree programs designed for their Air Force occupation. Why is this? The U.S. Air Force is the best at developing its workforce for current and future leadership and technical challenges. The 64 degree programs offered through CCAF are specifically created and tailored to address technical and leadership issues a member will encounter in their specialty. Nearly every profession requires its members to complete some type of education or certification. Our profession of arms is no different.
Completion of a CCAF degree helps members progress from apprentice to journeyman and onto craftsman in their trade. Of the 64 credit hours required for the CCAF AAS, 24 are in the technical education area. These 24 hours are accomplished through technical school, on-the-job training, UGT and the CDCs. The Air Force views the AAS as the first important step in the development of our junior enlisted corps, a step that can’t be substituted with civilian academic degrees. Once Airmen complete this first and critical obligation then we can encourage them to continue and achieve other educational goals. Our force benefits by having a team of educated leaders, managers and Airmen.
The road to educational excellence starts with understanding the true 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.