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Military Personnel Taking Advantage of Online Degrees

The Army may have taken 1st Sgt. Mark McKaig all around the word, but education always kept him connected. Thanks to online degree learning, Sgt. McKaig was able to balance his Armed Forces' goals with his academic ones, even when his tours took him to places far removed from the classroom.

McKaig started an online degree program in 1999 in order to pursue his bachelor's. At the time, he was stationed in Washington, D.C., but was given temporary duty assignments that lead him all over the world to places like Europe and Asia. "I was looking for a school that could accommodate me with traditional face-to-face classes, as well as distance education because of my temporary duty assignments." He found the perfect distance education program at the University of Maryland University College (UMUC), which serves many students virtually, a large percentage of whom are affiliated with the Armed Forces.

It's definitely worked out for McKaig, who earned that bachelor's degree in business administration via UMUC's online degree program, and is currently working on a master's in telecommunications management. "I've always been a firm believer in education," he says. "There are so many opportunities out there and I think everyone should take advantage."

Beyond simply achieving a personal goal, McKaig is confident that earning his degree will ensure his success beyond his time in the Army. "I wanted to be marketable when I decided to leave," he says. "Without a degree, there's not much of a chance to get the job you want." In addition, he adds, his wife is an educator who puts a great emphasis on the benefits of education.

The Long Road to Educational Victory
McKaig's online degree achievement didn't come easy, but with much work and determination, he was able to complete his digital assignments amidst his busy Army schedule. "It took a lot of late nights. The thing about temporary duty is that you do your job and you also have some off time. When I had this time, I would take all my books with me and log on [to classes] for a couple of hours. I couldn't have gotten my bachelor's degree without it because I was traveling so much."

Much of his success can be attributed to UMUC's program, he explains, specifically the support he received. "When I need them, they are outstanding and everything is right there from the moment you log in [to the system]. Once you take a class and understand how it works, it's very simple."

McKaig advises military students to find a non-traditional school, like UMUC, for flexibility and ease of working from anywhere in the world. As First Sergeant, he oversees the day-to-day operations and training of a group of 70 soldiers. Currently, at least half of them are enrolled in or have taken classes in the past six months, he says. "I have soldiers from Afghanistan to Iraq and all over who take classes. It's almost impossible not to find an Internet connection nowadays," he says.

As the military offers 100 percent tuition assistance, McKaig advises others to eliminate those "no time" excuses and get back to school. "We push really hard to enroll our soldiers in college courses" he says. "With free tuition and the flexibility of college nowadays, it's almost a crime if you don't walk out of the Army with a degree."

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