updated 10/2/2007 2:25:32 PM ET 2007-10-02T18:25:32

The Army plans to offer accredited college credit hours for its training programs with enough offerings that a soldier could retire with a bachelor's degree.

The program is called the College of the American Soldier and is viewed as a recruitment tool as the Army seeks to expand its force.

With the offering, the Army will be able to tell recruits to come in to learn a skill and to obtain an education, said Lt. Gen. Benjamin Freakley, who outlined the program during a meeting Tuesday with reporters.

Freakley is head of Army Accession Command, which is responsible for recruiting and the initial training of soldiers. He said the Army is working with colleges to gets its training programs accredited, and hopes to begin the program in February.

Under it, every new recruit in basic training will have the option of obtaining a technical certification in a skill such as welding or potentially 17 hours of college credit in leadership, first aid and other areas, he said.

"The idea would be, by the time you are a staff sergeant, somewhere between six and 10 years in the Army, you're going to have your associate's degree," Freakley said.

Soldiers who attend the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy could get 45 hours of credit because they have to write and take classes in areas such as literature and public speaking, he said. Those who retire as a master sergeant or sergeant major could have a bachelor's degree through the program, he said.

The Army met its goal of recruiting 80,000 new soldiers for the budget year that ended Sunday. But Army leaders have acknowledged they face a tough recruiting climate as the Army seeks to increase its force of active duty Army, National Guard and Reserve troops by 74,000 in the next four years.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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