Army plans long learning curve online

Army plans long learning curve online

By Susan M. Menke

GCN Staff

Although the Army plans by mid-January to register the first soldiers for its University Access Online program, the hype over the program has begun to fade.

This summer, Army Secretary Louis Caldera unveiled the service's online training plans to much fanfare, describing the program as global in nature and serving soldiers and reservists Army-wide through 'the largest education portal in the world' [GCN, July 24, Page 1].

But the scope of the initial rollout will be limited to one year for active-duty soldiers at three bases: Fort Benning, Ga., Fort Campbell, Ky., and Fort Hood, Texas.

At a prebid conference following release of the request for proposals late last month, Kathy J. Dobeck, branch chief for contracts and grants at Defense Supply Service-Washington, said the degree-granting initiative 'could be a worldwide program very fast.'

Bring 'em on

Though the initial scope is limited, the goal is 'anytime, anywhere' learning, she said. Caldera said the Army wants to give 1 million soldiers access to the portal by 2006.

The winning vendor must capture all costs of the indefinite-quantity, firm-fixed-price contract with contract line item numbers for matriculation, tuition and Web portal operations.

Nitty-gritty of Army
University Online

' What: The indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract will establish a Web education portal to serve active-duty soldiers for one base year and four option years.

' Why: Of the Army's 153,000 soldiers, 139,000 took courses in fiscal 1999, and 8,800 earned college degrees.

' When: Proposals are due Oct. 20; contract award is slated for Dec. 15; initial soldier registration is expected by mid-January.

' Who: About 15,000 soldiers at Fort Benning, Ga., Fort Campbell, Ky., and Fort Hood, Texas, will be eligible to take college and technical certification courses.

' How: The Army will fund between 75 percent and 100 percent of the cost of courses plus a notebook PC and printer that become each student's property.

The Army is looking for best value, Dobeck said, and price will count less than the technical excellence of the proposals and bidders' past performance.

The contractor will be held accountable for all aspects of the program, which has $50 million in funding for fiscal 2001 but could be worth as much as $550 million if continued through four option years.

School supplies

The contractor must supply an e-mail account and a new, preconfigured notebook PC and printer to each student soldier. Soldiers are responsible for their own Internet connectivity, either on barracks LANs or by dial-up telephone line. This is a change; previously, the Army suggested that it would assume responsibility for Internet service for soldiers, too.

Ownership of the notebook PC and printer will revert to the contractor if the student does not complete nine credit hours within two years of study, Dobeck said. The soldier must then reimburse the government not only for the hardware but also for the cost of courses taken.

Current reimbursement for Army continuing education is 75 percent, said Linda Dian Stoskopf, Army director of education. 'We are very optimistic that 100 percent tuition assistance' will be included in the Army's fiscal 2001 budget for the online program, she said.

Enrollment is limited to soldiers who have at least three years remaining in their tours of duty. The contractor must arrange to continue courses if any students are transferred away from the three forts. Speakers said there are about 15,000 potential students for the base year.

So long blackboards

The Web portal must host numerous functions, Stoskopf said. 'Distance learning requirements have tripled in fiscal 2000, and we see that continuing,' she said.

The portal, which must be up and running within three months after contract award, will serve admissions testing, advising, registration, textbook ordering and distribution, and on-site test proctoring needs. Students, mentors and tutors must have access to online chat. A final portal function is to gather quality control metrics for the services provided.

After the service releases an amended RFP, probably this week, the next milestone will be Oct. 20, when proposals are due. The Army plans to award the contract in mid-December.

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