Navy pushing for more IT education in new community college and executive-level courses

IT education is front-and-center in the Navy's new community college. "The return on investment is really exponential," acting Secretary Thomas Modly says.
Thomas Modly, Navy
Thomas Modly. (U.S. Naval Institute / Flickr)

As the Navy pushes to revitalize its education system, IT training for sailors and Marines is at the top of the department’s priorities, acting Secretary Thomas Modly said Friday.

Modly, who was once CIO himself, said that an IT degree will be the first credential offered to enlisted sailors and Marines in the soon-to-be Navy Community College. New courses for executive-level officers also will focus on data science and improving technical understanding, he said.

“The return on investment is really exponential,” Modly said of his push to invest in education. After he took the reigns as acting sectary in late November, he signed a memo adding more than $100 million dollars into the education system in fiscal 2020. Modly appeared alongside Navy CIO Aaron Weis and new Chief Learning Officer John Kroger at a National Defense Industrial Association event.

Kroger was hired as the Navy’s first chief learning officer in September by the then-secretary, Richard Spencer.


The Navy Community College is a new institution that the Navy hopes to stand up in early 2021, Navy Times reported. It will offer another path for enlisted service members to earn college credit through online courses and classes offered through partnering civilian colleges and universities. It’s won’t have a central campus but will be a pathway to earn credit and a degree, starting with IT degrees.

In the Marine Corps, there is a critical need for more IT-savvy enlisted personnel, Kroger said. Filling that gap will be one of the key goals of the community college program. Financial management training will also be offered through the college’s courses.

“We just don’t have the capabilities to maintain and deliver a constantly updated world-class network,” Kroger said.

The emphasis on IT skills comes as the Navy pushes to increase its cybersecurity and network defenses. Weis, the Navy’s new CIO as of September, stressed the importance of better protecting the Navy’s information after a review revealed a damning picture of the department’s cybersecurity.

“There is very little value to drive innovation if we are letting the good stuff out the back door,” he said Friday.


Executive Education

The Navy wants more than just IT-savvy sailors and Marines at the entry level. The department is developing a program with Harvard University to create a four-day course for executive-level officers to be more adept at working with data science.

The course, which is in the works with Harvard’s graduate-level mathematics program, will not be teaching how to do data science to officers but how they can ask better questions and work with data scientists, Kroger said.

At the Navy’s current network of graduate and post-graduate schools, Kroger stressed the importance of updating legacy equipment many STEM researchers use. Computer systems and other tools in laboratories and engineering centers are not up to the needs of innovation the Navy leaders are pushing for.

“A lot of that equipment is not worth training people on,” Kroger said.

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