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New Program Shortens Gap Between Soldiers, Dreams

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FORT BRAGG — The Army is coming to the aid of its own people. A new distance learning program will make it easier for soldiers to get their college degrees while serving.

The Internet-based program is not much different from other online college courses across the country. If successful, the program could spread to Army posts across the country and to soldiers' families.

After more than 20 years in the military, 1st Sgt. Jennifer Blair is pursuing another passion. She is working toward a master's degree in education atFayetteville State University.

"My kids and my husband will tell you that I love school," she said. "I love education."

The Army's new program will make it easier for Blair to realize her dream.

"I like [the program] in a sense that it makes you move," she said. "You don't have a choice when technology comes. You have to move with it, or else you'll be staganated."

Long-distance learning has one noticeable trade-off: The convenience of the computer means sacrificing interaction with classmates.

Blair's military experience has taught her about teamwork, and she says she will miss daily contact with fellow students. But times are changing, and Blair says she has chosen to keep up.

The expanded learning program will start at selected installations later this year. Under current plans, soldiers could have access to Internet-based courses as early as 2001.