A doctorate on active duty = determination

How SFC Clinton Covert gained his graduate degree with the Army's help

by 1LT Traci Gift

1989-1990: Then-SGT Covert enrolled in four college courses per semester with the University of Maryland while stationed in Korea. This included weeknights, weekends and lunchtime classes. �My supervisor agreed that I could take lunchtime courses as long as I was back at work at 1 p.m.,� said Covert. �I accomplished this by leaving class about 10 minutes early each day and literally running back to work.�

As he began his college work, Covert enrolled in the Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges program, which allows servicemembers to move from station to station and stay enrolled in a college program. With the evaluation of his military experience for college credit, along with two CLEPs, Covert left Korea one class or three semester hours short of his associate�s degree. [If one scores high enough on College-Level Examination Program tests on specific subjects, one receives credit for passing the CLEP test same as if one passed the college course; in common usage, this is called �CLEPping� and the credit one receives are called �CLEPs.�]

1990-1992: While stationed at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., then-SSG Covert completed his associate�s degree and started work on his bachelor�s in business administration with the University of Phoenix. Again, all the classes were scheduled in the evenings and on weekends.

�When I learned my next assignment would be Augsburg, Germany, I researched what colleges and universities were operating in the Augsburg military community,� Covert said. �I then had the educational counselors at Fort Huachuca list the specific courses needed for transfer credits and degree completion.�

1992-1995: While stationed in Germany, Covert completed his bachelor�s degree with his �home� college at Fort Huachuca by a combination of correspondence courses and college transfer credits. Covert then enrolled in a master�s program with the University of Oklahoma.

�At this time, I only had 1� years remaining in Germany,� he said. �Instead of waiting for the required courses to be scheduled at the Augsburg education center, I used my leave to travel and take the coursework at different education centers throughout Germany. I stayed at the different military communities� guesthouses out-of-pocket in addition to using my Army leave. However, I was able to finish a two-year program in 12 months. Other admissions requirements [for the master�s program] such as the Graduate Management Admission Test or Graduate Record Examination were waived based on my undergraduate grade-point average.

�[Getting a degree] has to be something you really want to do and take advantage of as opportunities present themselves,� Covert said. �When I was stationed in a nontactical unit, I sacrificed time and the money for doing other things to take advantage of educational opportunities.�

1995-1998: By this time promoted to sergeant first class, Covert was assigned to 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Hood, Texas. Before his next assignment with 25th Infantry Division, Fort Shafter, Hawaii, Covert researched what doctoral programs were offered in Hawaii. Covert scheduled and completed the required admissions forms, including the GRE, prior to his arrival in Hawaii.

While at 1st Cav, Covert had a three-year break between master�s degree and doctoral program because of 1st Cav�s many field deployments and rotations to the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, Calif. �By completing my master�s before leaving Germany, I didn�t experience what a lot of soldiers experience when they start a program and then run into obstacles � such as tactical units or the college or university not being available at their new assignment � and never finishing,� Covert said. �I never took courses on field deployments, just correspondence courses.�

1998-2001: Covert immediately enrolled in the University of Southern California�s doctorate in education program in Fall 1998 as part of USC�s off-campus Hawaii cohort. �The doctorate of education totaled 70 credit hours, with 25 semesters hours credited from my master�s degree,� Covert said. �I completed the remaining coursework, the required summer residency at USC�s campus and the oral-qualification examination before I left Hawaii in September 2001. My brigade commander in Hawaii allowed me to take 45 days� leave to complete my summer-residency requirement at USC when others in my chain-of-command were against it. So this was big, because I had to complete this requirement before the end of the coursework and the qualification exam.�

2001-2002: Covert wrote and defended his dissertation while again assigned to Fort Huachuca. �The Army�s tuition assistance paid for 75 percent of my college tuition up to my master�s degree,� Covert said. �For my doctorate, I paid out-of-pocket because I was one of those soldiers covered by neither the Montgomery GI Bill nor the [original] GI Bill. By the time the Army offered conversion to the GI Bill for soldiers like myself, I was almost finished with my coursework. However, all the other military members in the program used their GI Bill on active duty to pay for about two-thirds of their tuition each term.�

For soldiers wondering how Covert balanced grades and job performance, Covert said he put his whole heart into both his schooling and work. This soldier�s standards were high enough that, on one hand, his performance appraisals were exemplary and his career progression commensurate with his career field. (He was selected for promotion to master sergeant but declined, he said.) On the other hand, his GPA was high enough for the master�s program admission requirements to be waived. �If anything, participation in higher education has only enhanced my Army job performance � for example, my critical thinking and communication skills,� Covert said.

�For most of my career, my wife and I were enrolled in college courses at the same time,� Covert noted. �This was a positive factor, because I think the support and understanding of a significant other is vital.�

1LT Gift is 11th Signal Brigade�s public-affairs officer.

Acronym QuickScan
CLEP � College-Level Examination Program
GPA � grade-point average
GRE � Graduate Record Examination
USC � University of Southern California

dividing rule

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