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TPS confers its first master's degrees

EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (AFPN) -- The U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School achieved a milestone May 27 by officially receiving accreditation to present its graduating students with a master's degree.

Eighteen students from Class 07B were the first to be granted a Master of Science in Flight Test Engineering during a graduation ceremony at Club Muroc here June 7.

"This is a tremendous accomplishment for the school, the TPS staff, Edwards, (Air Force Materiel Command) and the Air Force," said Col. Mike Luallen, TPS commandant.

Colonel Luallen said it's only appropriate the school is finally able to recognize the graduates for their achievements.

"This is an overdue recognition not only for our graduates, but for the faculty and institution that have given the nation the ability to provide unsurpassed air power for our nation's defense," said Col. William Thornton, 412th Test Wing commander.

From November 2003 to April 2008, TPS worked through three processes in getting the school's curriculum accredited to a master's program including approval by the Department of Education and Congress and accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and School.

"We looked into the possibility of getting the school accredited way back in 2003 when I was in charge of the education division," said Lt. Col. Mark Schaible, TPS director of special projects. "We worked with Air University. The first thing we had to do was submit a self-assessment package to the (National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity)."

The committee advises the Secretary of Education on matters related to accreditation and to the eligibility and certification process for institutions of higher education.

"We had to assess everything," Colonel Schaible said. "We had to evaluate the quality of the curriculum, the faculty and the facility. We had to rebrand our courses because we never really laid it out in a master's format. In addition, we ensured that our instructors were qualified to teach the course. It is an all-encompassing overview of what we do here."

The TPS staff, past and present, put in long hours to make sure the curriculum was set up to withstand the scrutiny of the accreditation, Colonel Luallen said. They implemented processes to formalize the curriculum and established procedures to review, update and improve the curriculum on a periodic basis. In addition to preparing TPS for accreditation, these steps improved the course and made it more robust.

In June 2007, the NACIQI recommended approval for TPS to grant master's degree to its graduates. The Secretary of Education approved it on July 2. The school later received congressional approval in February.

"The third step was getting regionally accredited," Colonel Schaible said. "When you go to college, in order to transfer credits to another school, the institution has to be accredited. Air University cannot grant a degree that is not regionally accredited. We submitted a package that went in on April 15."

The main precursor in getting the accreditation approved was getting everybody on board, Colonel Schaible said.

"The second biggest thing was repackaging our curriculum such that we could show it to a non-military institutional body and still be understandable," he said. "By repackaging our curriculum, they would be able to assess the graduate level nature of our course."

The need for the accreditation of the curriculum came about because most TPS graduates think the course is a master's level program, Colonel Schaible said. This is because of the course's level of difficulty.

Students undergo a 48-week curriculum that is broken into four branches: performance, flying qualities, systems and test management. Each student has to complete more than 2,500 graduate academic hours, about 120 hours of in-flight training and finish a test management project.

"Our graduates need to be given credit for their accomplishment," Colonel Schaible said.

Presenting graduates with a Master of Science degree is important because it's the right thing to do, Colonel Luallen said. The pilots, engineers, navigators and weapons systems officers who complete TPS have truly completed a master's-level program.

"Additionally, since their efforts have been recognized with a Master of Science degree, they will be able to devote their full attention to the flight test duties they are assigned after graduation," he said. "They will not need to work on a master's degree at night or spend one or more additional years in a full-time degree program away from their primary Air Force duties."

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