DoD civilian education strives for higher grade

kpeters@govexec.com

The Defense Department's civilian education program got a boost Friday when Defense Secretary William Cohen swore in Jerome F. Smith to become chancellor for education and professional development.

The selection of the chancellor fulfills a key recommendation in the Defense Reform Initiative report released last November. The job was created to raise the quality of civilian training and professional development.

Smith's challenge will be to develop a coordinated professional education program throughout the department, establish standards for academic quality, eliminate duplicative or unnecessary programs and ensure that education and training meets valid needs and competency requirements.

It won't be easy. According to the Defense Department, only about one-fifth of DoD-sponsored educational institutions are accredited by a recognized academic association, and only five of 37 educational and professional development programs have at least some courses certified for college credit by the American Council on Education.

"Faculties are often not challenged, and students are not inspired," according to the Defense Reform Initiative report.

By Jan. 1, 2000, Smith, a former dean of the National Defense University, must ensure that every DoD institution is accredited or actively pursuing accreditation. No course is to be taught unless it is fully certified by recognized accreditation authorities for each respective field. Toward that end, one of Smith's first initiatives will be to institute a system of performance evaluation for every faculty member, course and program.

Smith will operate through a consortium of DoD institutions offering programs of professional development, much like the approach used by the Defense Acquisition University. Membership in the consortium will be mandatory. The chancellor will also seek to open in-house programs to competition by the private sector.

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