VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. — As a pilot training facility, Vance Air Force Base is all about education.
Students aren’t only being taught how to fly or the ins and outs of air traffic control but can realize their goals of obtaining an associate’s, a bachelor’s or even a master’s degree, thanks to the Vance education office.
The Vance education office provides education, training, testing, career assistance and tuition assistance for all military members.
“We do anything here that has to do with our members going to school,” said Felicia Tilley, flight chief of force development for the 71st Flying Training Squadron.
Enlisted airmen and officers alike are eligible to receive tuition assistance from the Air Force — $250 per semester hour, a maximum of $750 for a three-hour class, said Tilley. This money can be used to attend any accredited school, she added.
“I’d say about 90 percent of our students go online,” Tilley said, “because of the portability.”
Each airman is eligible for $4,500 per fiscal year in federal tuition assistance. Interested airmen enroll in school, develop a degree plan, make an education goal that must be approved by the base education office, then apply for tuition assistance.
“We do around $500,000 worth of tuition assistance a year,” said Tilley. “That’s at $750 a class, so that’s quite a few classes. The member doesn’t pay up front for anything.”
To remain eligible for federal tuition assistance, members must maintain at least a C average in lower level courses, a B average for master’s-level students.
“If you fail the class you have to pay it back,” said Tilley. “The Air Force is careful to make sure they are going to school and really trying.”
Vance airmen also are eligible for a scholarship offered by the city of Enid. The city gives Vance some $25,000 per year for airmen, spouses and dependents to use for books or tuition assistance.
“The city of Enid is the only city in the United States that offers this,” Tilley said.
Many enlisted airmen begin their higher education journey at Community College of the Air Force, or CCAF, the world’s only degree-granting institution of higher learning dedicated strictly to enlisted troops. CCAF is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
At CCAF airmen can get a 64-hour associate’s degree in their job specialty.
“This is a degree they can go out and get a job with,” said Tilley, “because they have 30 hours worth of technical credit, which is in their particular job.”
Wayland Baptist University offers airmen an opportunity to earn college credit through College Level Examination Program or Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education testing.
“They can take an English exam and earn three hours of college credit, and this is free to the enlisted members,” Tilley said.
Tilley’s office helps airmen find and enroll in colleges for distance learning.
Officers already must have at least a bachelor’s degree, but the Vance education office can aid them in pursuing a master’s.
The education office also takes care of any formal training needed by any member of Vance’s permanent party, enlisted or officer alike.
The office administers tests, such as promotion exams for airmen of all ranks, FAA written certification tests for student pilots and instructors, language tests, career development course tests and officer qualification tests.
As airmen are about to separate or retire from the military, the Vance education office offers transition assistance to help them pursue their education after they leave the service.
“We not only help them get a degree when they are in, we help them go to school when they get out so they can finish their degree,” said Tilley.
Previously the Vance education office’s services were reserved for military personnel, but recently the Air Force has begun career development for government civilians.
Airmen and spouses also can brush up on their study skills thanks to classes taught by the Vance education office.
First-term airmen are briefed by the Vance education office.
“We brief them on how to go to school,” said Tilley, “what they need for their CCAF and how easy it is for them to get it. The Air Force wants them to be educated, wants them to be able to go out and find a job.”