MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. --
The Marine Corps University (MCU) and its Staff Noncommissioned Officer academies (SNCOAs) throughout the Marine Corps are exploring opportunities to give college credits to Marines that attend their schools. SNCOAs provide enlisted noncommissioned officers (NCOs) and staff noncommissioned officers (SNCOs) with leadership training to prepare them for duties of greater responsibility. The SNCOA at Camp Pendleton cycles through three different schools each year including the Sergeant’s School, Career School for staff sergeants and the Advanced School for gunnery sergeants. In it's initiative to gain course accreditation, MCU's goal is to partner with universities and colleges that will accept completion of each school's curriculum and apply it towards an Associates or Bachelor’s Degree.
“Some colleges and universities give you credits based on certain professional military education (PME) courses. However, it’s only a recommendation,” said Melissa Balcombe, academics officer, MCB Camp Pendleton SNCOA.
While other PME courses not taught at the SNCOA, including the Corporal's Course and Lance Corporal Seminar, they too can be included. “The overall goal is to eventually create a program which if you do everything from Lance Corporal Seminar up to Senior Enlisted PME and you go to this school, you can get a bachelor's degree. They can take what you've done and then you do additional college credit with that particular school,” Balcombe added.
In a typical college or university that operates off a two-semester academic year, one credit equals about 15 or 16 hours of class. As such, MCU and the SNCOA are currently in the process of translating credits from PME to college credits, and that could mean a cost savings of programs like tuition assistance (TA).
“Each credit through TA [costs] $250. However, if you get 20 credits through PME, that’s 20 credits of essentially free money that you didn’t have to use toward your TA or out of your pocket, you receive those from coming to Sergeants School,” said Gunnery Sgt. Roger Merritt, staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge, Sergeant’s School, SNCOA. “There’s a benefit that you’re going to get at least free credits out of it towards your degree.”
Ahead of the push for accreditation, the terminology at Sergeants School has been revised and changed. For example, instead of platoons, the Marines are put into conference groups. "A lot of the verbiage changed, that way we can align with a college atmosphere,” Merritt said. Since admission departments in colleges and universities review military curricula for credit, SNCOA wants it to, "look like, sound like and smell like college but for the Marine Corps,” Merritt continued.
Sergeants School has also changed its curriculum. Instead of learning basic Marine Corps knowledge throughout the five-weeks, the school has focused its classes on information that Marines can use to further their career and become better leaders. These changes are being applied to Career and Advanced Schools as well.
“The atmosphere has changed. When I went to Sergeant’s Course back in the day, it was ‘aye aye Staff Sergeant,’ boot bands, knife hands and drill,” said Merritt. “Now, I’m having a guided discussion with students, and we’re taking an article, and analyzing it together.”
The current curriculum centers on educating the Marine and builds off of what they learned in the previous school. “Whatever you learn in Sergeant’s School, you [expand upon] in Career School, and that [leads into] Advanced School,” Merritt said.
This accreditation initiative was introduced by Col. Christopher J. Williams, Director of Enlisted Professional Education for MCU. “We’ve been worried about it for a long time. No one’s against getting college credits for their PME,” said Balcombe. “Col. Williams is very passionate about it. He’s made the most impact in his time as a director than any of his predecessors. When he became the director, he made things happen.”
The new curriculum and eventual accreditation of these schools will benefit Marines graduating from the SNCO Academy. Mentoring and coaching from the instructors change the atmosphere of the course itself, according to Gunnery Sgt. Ricardo Candelario, chief faculty advisor, Sergeants School.
“When we provide experiences from a SNCO's perspective, instruction and mentorship, [students] leave this school prepared for any challenge,” said Candelario. “They walk out of here a better Marine, NCO or SNCO.”
The new changes to the SNCO Academy will benefit Marines by making them more educated, capable warfighters and allow them to earn college credits if they choose to leave the military.
“We’re building better SNCOs that are going to carry the Marine Corps into the next fight," Candelario stated.