Long-term, Full-time Program lets Robins civilians take time off to get leg up on higher education Published July 20, 2007 By Holly Birchfield 78 ABW/PA Robins Air Force Base, Ga. -- Balancing the demands of a full-time job while working towards a four-year degree is a serious challenge. But, civilians at Robins don't have to carry such a load, thanks to the Long-term, Full-time Program. LTFT is an educational program which allows civilian employees of any grade or pay series who have worked as civil servants at the base for five consecutive years to take up to one academic year away from work to complete a bachelor's or master's degree program at a Georgia-based college or university. Eleven out of 20 applicants for the 2007-2008 academic year were recently accepted into the program. Graduates like Jan Lands, a security assistance program manager for Romania in International Programs in the 561st Aircraft Sustainment Squadron, can attest to the benefits of the opportunity. Ms. Lands knew she wanted to finish her four-year degree but shied away from the idea until she found out about the LTFT program. "Honestly, going to school at night and working too is very difficult," she said. "It was hard to do both things as well as I wanted to. Working full-time and going to school full-time, it was hard to give my all to either one." The 44-year-old Georgia native enrolled in the program in August 2004 and completed classes for her bachelor's of science degree in business administration at Mercer University in Macon the following year. Donna Jones, civilian education program manager in the Force Training Directorate, said students are chosen each summer for the highly competitive program based upon the following criteria: the student's ability to complete his or her bachelor's or masters degree at a Georgia-based college or university within one academic year, be a full-time student, have completed five consecutive years of civil service as of their fall enrollment date, and could not have attended another long-term, full-time program within the last three years. While students don't necessarily have to have a 3.0 grade point average to enter the program, they must maintain that B average while enrolled in the program, Ms. Jones said. The employee's college of choice must certify that he or she is one year or less from completing an academic degree, as well as receive written recommendations from their supervisors and wing commanders as part of their application. Individuals must submit their education expenses as part of their package, as the number of applicants accepted is based upon availability of monies. Students are allowed up to $3,500 per fiscal year to cover tuition, books, and lab fees. All other school-related expenses are footed by the civilian taking classes, according to Ms. Jones. The Senior Executive Service Board at Robins rates civilian employees against the five criteria to make their selections, Ms. Jones said. Once accepted, Ms. Jones said employees are fully-devoted to their pursuit of education, leaving their full-time jobs temporarily behind for someone else in their organization to care for in their absence. However, civilians are expected to return to their jobs during any holiday or other type break during their school time until classes resume. Full benefits and pay remain in place for LTFT participants. But that entitlement comes with a price. Civilians are bound to a service commitment equal to the amount of time spent away from their jobs once they complete the program, Ms. Jones said. Ms. Lands said the payoff of the program is well worth the hard work. "It has given me a foundation to make some of the tough decisions, especially in this new job I'm in," she said. "It has given me confidence I didn't have before." The college graduate said she would recommend the program to anyone wanting to achieve educational goals. "It's a wonderful opportunity and I have been thankful for it," she said. "It was tough, but it was a great opportunity."