M. Frances "Fran" Kelly, Ph.D., served from 1976 to 1998 as the first director of U.S. Navy Education Plans and Policy with specific responsibility for its voluntary education program. She holds the record for having served the longest period of time as service chief for voluntary education within the Department of Defense. Kelly brought to this new position an extensive background in higher education, having earned her Ph.D. from the State University of New York at Buffalo with a dual specialty in occupational sociology and higher education. Her previous role was as project officer in the Title III, Developing Institutions Program, U.S. Office of Education in Washington D.C. She was recognized nationally as a consultant for the development of community colleges.
Kelly consolidated all aspects of voluntary education into a comprehensive program. Her responsibilities encompassed "off‑duty voluntary education," officer accession programs, the Naval Postgraduate School and the Naval War College. She integrated a disparate group of educational programs under "Navy Campus." She advanced military educational programs with accreditation standards and quality assessment procedures so there would be greater acceptance of programs for the military in the civilian academic community. Her efforts paralleled the work of Steven Bailey and his critical report on voluntary education programs on military bases. Kelly influenced Navy leadership that this report, while not very flattering to existing programs, was a valid assessment. The Navy was the first service to give official endorsement to the report. This precipitated significant programmatic improvements over the years.
Kelly's involvement in the community college movement made her passionate about increasing educational access for sailors, especially those at sea for lengthy periods of time. She implemented a number of initiatives that greatly increased sailor participation in college degree programs. Her interest in electronic media, led to the application of new educational technologies to off duty education and major changes to the Program for Afloat College Education (PACE). As a former university professor, administrator and national consultant, Kelly brought a fresh and sometimes controversial perspective to the educational policymaker's table in Washington. Over the years she not only earned the trust and respect of the admirals for whom she worked, but also her colleagues in the other services. As part of that team, she defended educational resources throughout very difficult budget periods and was able to maintain and "grow" the Navy's Voluntary Education program.
Since her retirement in 1998, Dr. Kelly has made presentations at various e-learning conferences and has had one of her papers published by UNESCO in "Higher Education in Europe", Volume XXVII, No. 3, 2002. She has served on quality assessment teams in Mexico and the United Kingdom and has served as a consultant for an innovative software company.Kelly magnified and strengthened the relationship between the Department of Defense and the civilian academic community by heralding the role of accreditation, the importance of "'third party review" and the contribution of "outside" educational stakeholders. She helped bring military and civilian academic communities closer together. Kelly made an indelible mark on the Navy and on the field of adult and continuing education.
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