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ECU Chancellor Steve Ballard spoke with Maj. Gen. Virgil L. Packett during a visit to Fort Bragg Dec. 7. The chancellor toured ECU’s distance education center and other points of interest on base. (Photos by Nancy McGillicuddy)

Bragg Center Educates on Base, During Deployment

By Nancy McGillicuddy

The next time Alberto Morrison deploys for Iraq, his business courses from East Carolina University will go with him.

Based in Fort Bragg, Morrison is working toward a bachelor’s degree in business administration through ECU’s distance education— a program that was recently named one of ten schools authorized to contract with the Fayetteville Army base.

“Most bases overseas have Internet access readily available,” said Morrison, 32, who has already been deployed to Iraq twice. “Going online for an hour or two a week is doable for almost any unit regardless of tempo.”

ECU began organizing coursework for military personnel and dependents at Fort Bragg in August. These ECU students do not occupy classrooms as part of distance education and often they are their own guidance counselors. Teronda McNeil-Hueitt and Mark Bergman are coordinators for ECU’s Division of Continuing Studies at the Fort Bragg office, which is housed in one of Bragg’s Korean War-era barracks. Employed by ECU, McNeil-Hueitt and Bergman both have Army backgrounds and serve as liaisons between the university and the soldiers.

During a visit to Fort Bragg, ECU Chancellor Steve Ballard, left, talks with John Connelly, a senior associate director of continuing studies for distance education, via PolyCom.

Morrison, who is a chief warrant officer serving as a weapons and electronics tech, said ECU’s new on-base pocket helps provide stability to the program and academic support.

“The ECU office at Bragg went completely out of their way to start me off,” he said. “In fact, they assisted with getting my books, spent time with me on Blackboard and proctored my final exam. I will say that having them as permanent proctors will facilitate this process for students.”

In December a group of ECU officials toured the Fort Bragg facilities. The group, including Chancellor Steve Ballard, saw how some of ECU’s distance education students communicate with their university.

“When the troops go, all of our resources go with them,” said Clayton Sessoms, director of the Division of Continuing Studies at ECU. “Even when the defenders of our country are deployed, our distance education programs go with them.”

East Carolina’s enrollment in distance education has outpaced sister institutions in the University of North Carolina system in past years. According the U.S. News and World Report’s 2005 E-learning guide, ECU is the 12th largest online university in the country. Of $14 million in allocation increases by the UNC system to state institutions for distance education in 2004 (the most recently available figures), ECU received $11 million for its 4,000 distance education students. ECU currently enrolls more than 4,200 distance education students in 700 course sections.

Col. Al Aycock acknowledged that ECU’s experience in distance education is one of the reasons the base chose ECU.

“ECU was chosen because of the national leadership in distance education,” he said.

As of the fall 2005 semester, ECU has 172 students enrolled who are coded as “military” for tuition purposes. In addition, 425 students are receiving veterans’ benefits.

“Fort Bragg houses North Carolina’s largest concentration of military neighbors,” said Steve Duncan, director of military programs at ECU. “More than 70 percent of the base’s military population is deployed and distance education is one of the major ways these service members can continue their educational pursuits.”

Sessoms said military enrollments will most likely change as a result of the new program.

“We anticipate that we will gain several hundred more soldiers over the next two or three years as a result of our efforts on Fort Bragg,” he said.

Fort Bragg also has contracts with Campbell University, Central Texas College, Fayetteville State University, Fayetteville Technical Community College, Liberty University, Methodist College, Troy State University, UNC-Pembroke and Webster University.

Military personnel and their dependents pay in-state tuition rates. Courses and programs available in distance education are from a variety of disciplines such as the College of Education, the School of Nursing, the College of Technology and Computer Science, Allied Health Sciences and the College of Business.

Morrison, who expects he will be deployed for a third time, said his business classes will help him in the Army and beyond.

“This will prove fruitful in becoming either a business owner or successful manager,” he said.

“Either way, management in the military is always changing. I’ve used lessons learned in online class to my advantage.”

And one family advantage, Morrison notes, will continue while he is still in the United States and his wife is deployed in Iraq.

“The distance learning opportunity allowed me to take care of my baby girl, Berlyn, while working heavy shifts,” he said. “I’ve recommended it to several of my soldiers.”

This page originally appeared in the Feb. 3, 2006 issue of Pieces of Eight. Complete issue is archived at