Free and Flexible: The USNCC Military Studies Degree Helps USNCC Student Find Joy in Education

US Navy | Jul. 13, 2022

By Chief Mass Communication Specialist Xander Gamble

NORFOLK, VA.:  Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Handling) 3rd Class Petty Officer Gordan Stijak was not a fan of school before he discovered the USNCC. After he enrolled in the Associate of Arts in Military Studies degree program, he found his passion for history and the military led to a joy of pursuing higher education and improved his ability to do his job.

"I've never been more motivated for education in my whole life!"

In a crowded conference room surrounded by Sailors talking with enlisted community managers and rating detailers, Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Handling) 3rd Class Petty Officer Gordan Stijak sought out the U.S. Naval Community College's table at the Navy's Career Development Symposium. Inside the Vista Point conference center, Stijak said he had poor grades in high school. He immigrated from Prijedor, Bosnia, when he was 2 years-0ld, and his dad had dropped out of college to work.

"I always hated school until recently," said Stijak, of St. Louis, Missouri. He said his love of history drew him toward the USNCC’s Associate of Arts in Military Studies. Now, he says he loves the education he's getting. "It's easy. You do it on your own time."

There are three things Stijak says he likes most about the USNCC program: flexibility, cost, and interest. 

"I can do everything on my own time," he said first. He said he appreciates that there is no need to log in at specific times for a broadcast lesson; he can schedule his homework around his work schedule and personal life. The USNCC program is fully online and asynchronous, providing the flexibility for Sailors to pursue their education while balancing the rigors of military service and personal life goals and needs. As a Sailor stationed on board the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1), a lot can be expected from him.

When it comes to cost, Stijak said, "I'm not paying out of pocket, I'm not touching TA." Since the USNCC is funded separately from tuition assistance, this means Sailors like Stijak can earn their associate degree without it affecting their 120-credit lifetime limit. This allows the opportunities for these Sailors to save those benefits for pursuing both a bachelor's degree and still having education benefits left for a graduate degree program. This maximizes the educational opportunities for those serving in uniform.

Additionally, the USNCC covers the cost of required textbooks and course fees, which can often be a hidden cost to education. Stijak is able to pursue his education without having to use his own money for these additional costs. 

"Plus, I'm a history buff. I love history," he said as he talked about how his interest in all things military and history related keeps him motivated in his class work. The USNCC Military Studies degree program offers active duty enlisted Sailors, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen the opportunity to focus their education in one of several areas, such as history, political science, criminal justice, or geopolitics. This degree program is taught in consortium with Arizona State University. The USNCC teaches the five-course Naval Studies Certificate and Military Studies degree seekers attend ASU for the rest of the 60-credit degree program.

While the level of interest keeps Stijak motivated to attend class, he also talked about how the lessons he learns apply directly to his work. "It helped me to see everything, military-wise, from both the deckplates as well as from the higher-ups, and even on the political level," said Stijak. He went on to say this helps him solve problems in the workplace by seeing it from multiple points of view. "Here's from my point of view. Now let's look at it from chief's point of view, officer's point of view, and even higher than that. What about the overall mission?"

Stijak found out about the USNCC on social media one day. "I clicked on the link, went to the website, and I saw everything I really wanted to know about, and now, here I am, enrolled," he said as he described how easy it was to apply to the program. "If anybody else is thinking about it, I'd highly recommend it."

The USNCC has degree programs in Military Studies, Nuclear Engineering Technology, Cybersecurity, and Organizational Leadership with 11 more degree programs planned to come online over the next three years. 

The United States Naval Community College is the official community college for the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard. To get more information about the USNCC, go to Click on the Apply Now link to become a part of the USNCC Pilot II program.