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UNC-system schools alter course schedules for military students

Many UNC students have trouble balancing busy schedules, but a tour of duty can pose an even more daunting obstacle to finishing a degree — so some UNC-system schools have tailored their classes to fit the challenges of military students’ schedules.

Elizabeth City State University has begun offering a “winter session” between its traditional fall and spring terms to accommodate military students’ needs, said Ali Khan, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at ECSU.

And Fayetteville State University has eight-week and online courses designed to help military students achieve their degrees in a way that fits their schedule. East Carolina University also offers an online program.

“The benefits are that the students are able to complete the same amount of hours as the traditional students who are doing pretty much the whole 16 weeks,” said Veronica Alexander, director of the Fort Bragg Center at FSU. “They have to be totally focused and dedicated to getting the work done.”

UNC-CH does not offer eight-week classes but does offer online and self-paced courses. But there’s not much interest because UNC-CH doesn’t offer an online degree, said Timothy Sanford, associate director for Credit Programs for the Friday Center.

The online program at ECU has existed since the 1990s, but has seen increased participation from military students beginning in 2003, said Jeff Netznik, associate director for military outreach at ECU.

Netznik said about 1,300 to 1,500 students at ECU are classified as either ROTC students, active-duty service members or students attending college on GI benefits — though these numbers might skew lower because they do not include students who choose not to use their military benefits.

“Some will pay out of pocket,” he said. “Then they have no obligation to extend their military obligation past the date they were going to get out.”

Netznik said the overall number of students on military benefits is rising as deployments thin.

And he said there’s no negative impact on military-affiliated students’ academic performance that he’s seen. In fact, he said those students usually are more dedicated than students who entered college after high school graduation.

“The ones that enter the program are very focused and dedicated, and they want that bachelor’s degree (or) master’s degree, and they’re willing to work to get it,” Netznik said.

Jon Young, FSU’s provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs, said the university — which launched the eight-week courses in 1997 — gears the classes toward military students, though the classes are open to all students.

Young said the program has expanded over time to include online classes.

“The whole eight-week term got started as a response to what the military likes. But, it’s now proven attractive to a lot of adult learners — that is, people 24 years of age or older,” Young said.

Completing these courses quickly allows students to enter the workforce earlier, said Ann Marie Beall, the director of military education for the UNC system.

She said the classes benefit active-duty military students.

“If they miss starting the beginning of a regular 16-week semester because of duty, and they’re not going to be able to start again for 16 weeks … it’s going to set them back dramatically,” she said.

She said the eight-week format helps to solve this problem, especially because service members have a limited timeframe for claiming educational benefits through the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

Young said the reduced terms provide more flexibility for military students who deploy in the middle of the semester, or for nontraditional students balancing school with a full-time job.

Military students make up 20 percent of FSU’s student body, while nontraditional students comprise 50 percent, Young said.

He said the experience of the eight-week courses is designed to be as similar to traditional classes as possible.

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“In terms of the types of projects that we give, the types of tests that we give, the kind of course content that’s covered, all of that’s the same. They’re not watered-down, diluted versions of the semester-long classes.

“They still have the same final exams, and the grade distributions are the same,” Young said.

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