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Online system reduces trips to education office

By Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (April 20, 2004) -- Four features now available under the Air Force's virtual education system give Airmen more control of their academic pursuits.

The Air Force Virtual Education Center is a Web-based system available to the total force that allows Airmen to do many of the things online that once required a trip to a base education office.

Airmen with accounts on the virtual center can now update personal data through the system, including rank, duty phone, and e-mail and postal mailing addresses.

New features allow users to view a complete history of their enrollment in courses taken using tuition assistance. Users will also be able to access a list of notifications concerning missing grades and payment suspenses, and they can check Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support and College-Level Examination Program test results.

The virtual center came online in early 2003 and was designed to streamline the process of participating in off-duty education, said Jim Sweizer, Air Force chief of voluntary education.

"The system is taking all the things we used to do in the old days on paper and trying to move them into the virtual world," he said. "This is part of a customer service transformation."

The centerís development is in line with similar developments in the civilian world. Being able to make payments online or to conduct business without leaving your home is something Airmen are familiar with and demand, Mr. Sweizer said.

"This is about convenience," he said. "Today you can pay bills in one place instead of running around to all locations, and that is a timesaver for consumers. In the Air Force, the better customer service you can provide, the better it is for the student. (The virtual center) is about better customer service."

One of the most apparent benefits to customer service is the centerís tight integration with the Community College of the Air Force, Mr. Sweizer said.

"Airmen can view their CCAF academic progress reports on the system," he said. "That process used to take six to eight weeks when done with a paper request Ö . Today, (students) can go on the (virtual center) and immediately see what they need to complete their coursework."

The center also makes it easier for Airmen to have their CCAF transcripts sent to other universities. Mr. Sweizer said the CCAF sends out as many as 65,000 transcripts a year to various schools.

"It was also a paper intensive process in the past," he said.

Sending out a transcript from CCAF to another school could have taken as many as six weeks when it was done entirely through paper mail and handwritten forms. With the virtual center, he said, the Air Force has reduced that process time to 24 hours.

While the virtual center does not currently allow Airmen to apply for tuition assistance online, officials said it soon will. In fact, application for tuition assistance will be a focal point on the site.

"The primary reason an Airman visits the education center is to start or continue college," Mr. Sweizer said. "The key component of that is tuition assistance. We fully fund tuition Ö the goal is to have them sit at a computer and be able to apply for tuition assistance in the virtual world."

From a military computer, Airmen can sign up for an account at https://afvec.langley.af.mil.