Establishing a Real-World Credential
Community College of the Air Force to award 300,000th associate degree.
By David Pluviose
With 342,000 students enrolled in 102 Air Force-affiliated schools, the Community College of the Air Force is the world’s largest two-year higher education institution. Headquartered at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama, CCAF was founded in 1972 as a means of establishing a real-world credential for training given to enlisted personnel — an associate of applied science degree. CCAF remains the only regionally accredited two-year institution in the U.S. armed services, and the college will be celebrating the awarding of its 300,000th associate degree this fall. Last year, the college conferred 16,771 such degrees.
Community colleges nationwide have been scrambling to cover gaping budget shortfalls as state and local government appropriations continue to dwindle. Col. Thomas D. Klincar, CCAF’s commandant and the first minority to lead the college, attended a session at this year’s American Association of Community Colleges conference that addressed some innovative ways community colleges are working to make ends meet.
For example, several community colleges are pooling resources to form state centers of excellence in order to participate in expensive new DNA research. Klincar, however, thanks “generous taxpayers” for allowing CCAF to stay on the cutting edge for more than 30 years.
“If you attend your typical community college, they’re somewhat resource constrained, based on what their sponsoring government can push in their direction,” he says. “I won’t say the Community College of the Air Force isn’t resource constrained, but the Air Force spent $2.5 billion last year on education and training, and we leverage those programs into this regionally accredited program.”
CCAF is on the verge of launching its Associate to Baccalaureate Cooperative Program, designed to be a 2+2 articulation agreement with 20 civilian four-year colleges. The program will allow CCAF graduates to transfer 100 percent of their credits into a range of bachelor’s programs, including business, computer information systems and emergency and disaster management. Klincar says one of the most useful features of the ABC program is its distance-learning component, which will allow enlisted Air Force personnel to participate even while deployed overseas.
“Something about conflict and war is that you’re faced with hours and days and weeks of boredom that’s punctuated by moments of sheer terror,” says Klincar. “We take those hours and days and weeks and we fill that time, because you can’t run to the local movie theater, so why not study? And that’s what these young folks are doing. That’s why for the past two years, we’ve had record graduation numbers for our degree programs.”
CCAF officials also note that the college is one of the key selling points for new recruits. While the U.S. Army and Marines have both struggled to meet annual enlistment goals in recent years, the Air Force has consistently met its recruitment goals.
Klincar and others point out that there is no Army or Marine counterpart to their institution.
“We’ve talked to other services over the years, and I think they wish they also had a program like the Community College of the Air Force,” says Dr. James Larkins, CCAF’s associate dean of institutional effectiveness and campus affiliations. “Year in and year out, we do the Air Force Recruitment Service survey of recruits in basic military training. The No. 1 or No. 2 reason they go into the service is for the education and training benefits available to them. This entire package is the No. 1 draw to get people into the Air Force.”
Though all military recruiters promise education opportunities, the Air Force, through CCAF, “delivers on the promise,” Klincar says. “We believe that that’s why we don’t have problems recruiting in the Air Force. We also tend to get a higher quality recruit, and we keep them on-board because they’re gaining college credit while they’re serving their country.”
And Dr. Daniel Hayes, the college’s dean of academics, says CCAF’s prodigious academic reputation has helped dispel negative stereotypes about the intellectual capability of armed forces personnel.
“There’s been that general perception that the military is anti-intellectual, and I just don’t think that’s fair, certainly not in the Air Force,” he says. “Some of the brightest people I’ve ever dealt with have been Air Force people, both enlisted and civilian.”
The armed services were among the first American institutions to break down the walls of segregation, following U.S. President Harry S. Truman’s order to desegregate the services in 1948. Though the Air Force has long enjoyed progress on diversity issues, the fact that Klincar is the first minority to lead the CCAF is still significant, he says.
“The fact that today, I’m a person of color, and the first to be commandant of the Community College of the Air Force, isn’t so much an effort to embrace diversity in the military — we did that more than 50 years ago,” he says. “Rather, it’s an acknowledgement that we are there in the military; that when you are in the military, you are promoted, your unit assignment is based upon your performance and not your color, not your religious affiliation, not your ethnic origins.
“Sure, there will be individuals who have residual feelings, because we’re all products of our environment, but, by and large, the military values diversity because it defines us as a nation,” he continues. “The entire country is a nation of immigrants.
If you want to talk about strength and resilience, you get that from the diverse groups that comprise every community.”
Klincar holds a bachelor’s in journalism from Southern Illinois University, a master’s in systems management from the University of Southern California and a doctorate in literature and language arts from La Salle University in Manila, Philippines.
His military career has taken him all over the world, including stints as air defense liaison to the Philippine Air Force; instructor of English at the U.S Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.; special assistant to the NATO supreme allied commander in Belgium; and dean of academics at the NATO School in Oberammergau, Germany.
In his travels, Klincar says he’s heard plenty of criticism of the United States’ equality record. But he says the criticism reveals a deeper truth.
“I go to other countries, and people, without thinking, criticize the United States, and Americans, because we show everything, we open ourselves to the entire world’s scrutiny,” he says. “The rest of the world doesn’t do that. They hide their ugliness.”
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