March 31, 2004 - Master Sergeant John VanVliet is an Information Assurance Training Coordinator at Fort McPherson. He coordinates three computer security courses, and recently found time to take some classes of his own. In December, after 26 years in the military, the father of two and proud grandfather of one earned a degree in Engineering Management from Grantham University.
Grantham is located in Slidell, Louisiana. MSG VanVliet has never been to Slidell. His commute was as easy as turning on his computer. Grantham is a distance learning institution, and MSG VanVliet downloaded his course materials on his home computer and communicated with teachers and advisors via the Internet.
Distance learning is exploding. The U.S. Department of Education released a study in July 2003 that found students enrolled in nearly 2.9 million college-level distance education courses in 2000-01, more than double the enrollment of 1997-98. Distance learning can mean taking courses through audio or video feeds, but schools that offer courses and degree programs through distance learning are more likely to use the Internet, the study found. The distance learning model can be of increased value to military personnel who are deployed or who move frequently, or whose duty schedules make it difficult to attend traditional college programs which require classroom attendance on a set schedule.
"I cannot stand to sit in class, even to this day," says MSG VanVliet. "I am an advocate of distance learning because it's what I use to train soldiers. Everything lies with you - you are responsible for everything. I found that fun and challenging."
MSG VanVliet also recognizes the increased value of the distance learning model to military personnel who are deployed or who move frequently, or whose duty schedules make it difficult to attend traditional college programs which require classroom attendance on a set schedule.
"The biggest difficulty, with being in the military and going to school, is traveling, and additional duties," he says. "At the drop of a hat we might have to travel somewhere or be called on to assist with an additional duty. In 1967 I took courses with University of Maryland, but I was traveling two weeks out of every month. I missed several classes and had to drop out. "If I was taking classes via distance learning. I could have been studying when I was stuck on a mountaintop. Traditional education and the military are not always compatible."
There are six students at Fort McPherson who are either currently attending Grantham or who recently graduated. "Three of us worked together and heard about Grantham at the same time," says MSG VanVliet. "We signed up together and had some of the same courses. Then some of our colleagues saw what we were doing and they signed up, too."
MSG VanVliet often talks to other military servicemen and women about enrolling in distance education programs, as he did. "Bottom line: pursue your education," is the advice he offers. "We have an excellent tuition assistance program in the military. Grantham and others offer supplementary scholarships. If you don't pursue an education, with all the benefits, available to us, you're cheating yourself."