Sgt. Major of the Marine Corps Troy Black talks about whether advanced degrees should be required for staff NCOs, and how to encourage them among Marines.

There could be a Marine Corps that requires staff noncommissioned officers to receive college degrees in order to fulfill the commandant’s design for the Marine Corps.

At least, that’s the Marine Corps that the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, Sgt. Maj. Troy Black, can envision in the not too distant future.

The commandant’s vision for the future Corps involves a highly distributed force spread across the Pacific, relying on small units taking on larger roles than ever before. Those distributed operations will put more of a leadership and decision-making burden on small unit leaders like Marine noncommissioned officers and staff noncommissioned officers.

“Frankly, as we think about how we develop especially our staff NCOs in the future as they take on more and more critical thinking responsibilities of junior officers, we are going to need staff NCOs that are collegiate minded," Black told Marine Corps Times in an exclusive interview at the Pentagon on Monday.

The top enlisted Marine enlisted leader will host a summit in early February with enlisted personnel from around the Marine Corps to discuss how to ensure enlisted Marines can get degrees, as well as adjusting courses enlisted leaders already are required to take.

The summit will be held from Feb. 3 to Feb. 7 at the Marine Corps University aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, and will have representatives from all three Marine Expeditionary Forces and the Marine Corps reserves.

While the focus will look into the various leadership courses Marines are required to take as their career advances, ensuring their curriculum provides the leadership and troop welfare training required in the Marine Corps, the summit will spend a lot of time discussing collegiate opportunities for enlisted members.

Black said the current focus is on making it possible for noncommissioned officers and staff noncommissioned officers to get degrees, creating programs that will work with the long and often unpredictable schedule of the average Marine.

“There is no college in the world right now that’s giving a 30-day break,” Black said, “but what if they could?”

Black said the Marine Corps University along with the Navy’s chief learning officer currently are working to create an accredited program that will not punish or fail Marines for going long periods of time without internet connection, be it on a training exercise, combat deployment or aboard a ship.

The Naval Community College is also a major part of Black’s plan to get enlisted Marines degrees.

The college will work to provide real credits to training the Marines already have received, while having accredited classes available to fill in any gaps the Marine has in their transcript.

So far, Black is purely focused on providing the infrastructure to Marines to get degrees.

But he said he can “envision some years down the road where we might start looking at some sort of associates or bachelor’s degree as some criteria we may consider for promotion or we may consider for retention.”

This is part 1 in a three-part interview series with Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Troy Black.

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