U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. --
Nearly 11 percent of the Air Force Academy's eligible enlisted Airmen received Community College of the Air Force degrees in 2009, giving the Academy a higher CCAF graduation rate than any of the Air Force major commands, according to CCAF statistics.
The Academy ranks seventh among Air Force installations in 2009 CCAF graduation rates, behind Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas (20.39 percent), Los Angeles AFB, Calif. (17.6 percent), Sheppard AFB, Texas (13.4 percent), Keesler AFB, Miss., and Brooks City-Base, Texas (13.3 percent) and the Pentagon (11.3 percent).
The Air Force's overall graduation rate was 6.6 percent.
"We don't have a whole lot of people, but when you have more than 10 percent of the base population that's eligible for a CCAF degree graduate, that says a lot about our Education Center's counselors and base leadership," said Cynthia Davis, the 10th Force Support Squadron's Force Development Flight chief.
CCAF degrees promote the Air Force's need for a highly educated, highly technical enlisted force, said Lisa Simon, 10th FSS section chief for education and training.
NCOs must have a CCAF degree to be eligible for senior master sergeant or chief master sergeant, but Chief Master Sgt. Todd Salzman, the Academy's command chief, urges Airmen to think of a CCAF degree as more than "merely a block to check."
"For me, it's an opportunity to develop intellectual capacity," Chief Salzman said. "Senior NCOs are finding themselves at the operational and strategic level of leadership more and more, and to be successful, they have to be able to analyze situations and properly articulate the way ahead to their leadership."
Degrees also help Airmen downrange or stationed overseas, Ms. Davis said.
"The (Air Force) mission has taken on a different role," she said. "You have to become an ambassador of the United States when you're in a foreign country. Someone who's had a broader learning experience can make a better impression. That kind of scope is what the Air Force is after."
A CCAF degree carries other benefits. Airmen with degrees are more marketable once they leave the Air Force, Ms. Davis said.
"When you leave the Air Force with a CCAF degree, employers know they're getting a highly competent and reliable individual, with a great amount of integrity," she said. "That's sometimes hard to find outside the gates."
A CCAF degree can also be a stepping stone to higher learning, both for Airmen and their family members, Ms. Simon said. In many cases, a CCAF degree is the first higher-education degree that any member of the family has earned.
"For children, seeing Mom and Dad still doing their homework is a real motivator," Ms. Davis said.
Counselors at the Academy's Education Office assist students understand and fulfill degree requirements, which can be met through attending local or online courses or through taking CLEP or DANTES tests, said Lori Collins, one of three education office counselors.
The education office partners with Colorado Christian University to offer courses on base that can help Airmen earn their CCAF degrees, Ms. Davis said.
"They've bent over backwards to make education as painless as possible," she said. "They're not pushing their degree program; they're pushing our degree program. Their focus is on courses that apply toward a CCAF degree." Classes in the education office's classroom consist of one meeting per week for five to nine weeks, depending on the course.
In order to earn a CCAF degree, a student must have a total of 64 semester hours through an accredited school, including 24 technical hours, 15 general education hours, 15 elective hours, six leadership and management hours and four physical education hours. Up to 30 semester hours may come through CLEP or DANTES tests. Basic Military Training fulfills the physical education requirement, and technical training courses also count toward CCAF requirements.
The Air Force established the CCAF in April 1972. The college mailed its first official transcript seven months later and issued its first credential, the Career Education Certificate, in August 1973, according to the CCAF Web site, www.au.af.mil/au/ccaf/public_affairs
. The school was first certified through the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools' Commission on Colleges in 1980 and remains the only community college in the Department of Defense.
"The CCAF is a great foundation for our enlisted men and women aspiring for higher education," Chief Salzman said. "It allows them to take advantage of the incredible amount of training they receive early in their careers and turn it into college credits. That is taking care of Airmen -- making the situation win-win."
The education office will hold its next CCAF graduation ceremony at the Falcon Club May 6, honoring those who received CCAF degrees during the October 2009 and April 2010 semesters. For more information on earning a CCAF degree, contact the education office at 719-333-3298.