At the end of the Cold War in the late 1980s, the United States military had an inarguable technological advantage in the world. But in the generation since, that has eroded heavily, and experts say we have to look at our lagging educational policies for that.

The U.S. Navy and Marines are among the largest employers in the country, with a combined active duty complement of over 500,000 people as of 2016, with their numbers on the rise. The Navy’s Demographics Report (2016) reported that 76 percent of active duty and 86 percent of reserve personnel hold at least a high school diploma but less than a bachelor’s degree (Their data does not distinguish between a high school diploma and an associate’s degree.)

The Navy wants to improve the education of its entire force, for strategic reasons.

“In a world where potential adversaries are peers economically and technologically, how do you win?” asked John Kroger, who is the first Chief Learning Officer of the Navy, a new position created for a project called the Education for Seapower Strategy 2020 (ESS20). “We think we can out-fight potential opponents because we can out-think them. In order to do that, we must have, by far, the best military education program in the world.”

Kroger’s aim with ESS20 is to create an accredited naval community college to make a free associate’s degree available to every sailor and Marine, free of charge. It will conjoin with the existing navy universities, and include policies to reward those who pursue higher education, both within its system and in civilian education. Educational pursuits will be taken into account by promotion boards and in fitness evaluations.

The Education for Seapower Strategy 2020 would not establish a new brick-and-mortar school but would piggyback on civilian universities and colleges to educate servicepeople, along with providing general education courses online.

Kroger and the Navy plan to put this system before Congress later this year, looking for some additional budget but mostly for approval to reallocate and more efficiently use the Navy’s existing educational budget.

Photo: U.S. Navy personnel in dress uniforms salute during the New York City Veterans’ Day Parade. Credit: a katz /