The Space Force has chosen Johns Hopkins University as its graduate and postgraduate military school for officers, becoming the first branch of the U.S. armed forces to leverage a private university rather than create a new war college.

Starting next July, Johns Hopkins will offer a 10-month, accredited professional military education program that draws on its world-renowned courses in international studies and engineering, the Space Force’s Space Training and Readiness Command told Air Force Times on Thursday.

Those who graduate will earn a master’s degree in international public policy from the university’s School of Advanced International Studies.

It’s the Space Force’s latest attempt to think outside the box as it creates a culture distinct from the Air Force. The service resides under the Department of the Air Force and manages most of the Pentagon’s space-focused personnel and programs.

“We are shaping the future of our service to develop joint space warfighters in world-class teams,” the Space Force’s training branch said.

Maryland-based Johns Hopkins is the oldest research university in the United States and among the world’s most prestigious institutions of higher education.

Its satellite campus in downtown Washington will host the Space Force’s intermediate and senior service school programs, which are typically run at military colleges like the Air Force’s graduate-level Air Command and Staff College and its postgraduate Air War College.

Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall and Gen. John “Jay” Raymond, who retired Wednesday as the service’s chief of space operations, considered standing up the Space Force’s own service university as well. But they ultimately opted to work with a civilian school, at an estimated annual cost of $6 million.

The first cohort is expected to include about 60 students across five seminars, the Space Force said. They’ll graduate in May 2024.

The program is slated to grow to as many as 85 students across six groups in subsequent years. In comparison, about 750 students attend the Air Force’s graduate and postgraduate PME courses each year.

“Guardians, sister service members, and civilians will apply as part of their respective developmental education process,” the Space Force said. “Students selected will be required to provide recommendation letters, transcripts and complete the JHU admissions process.”

Some space-focused faculty at Air University, the Air Force’s service school at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama, will join Johns Hopkins as well.

Professional military education is a key step in an officer’s ascent up the career ladder.

Graduate, or intermediate, programs largely cater to majors (O-4), while postgraduate, or senior, courses are tailored to lieutenant colonels (O-5) as they prepare to take on greater responsibilities and leadership roles.

Students in the program can tailor their studies to fit career goals, from electives in technology, policy and security to technical courses in spacecraft engineering. And Johns Hopkins can work with the military to ensure the coursework remains relevant in a quickly changing field.

Officials argue that studying in downtown Washington will allow guardians to build stronger relationships with key players in the national security space, and to be involved on long-term projects beyond graduation.

The decision can also make life easier for students and their families by keeping them in the D.C. area, a hub of military space jobs, instead of sending them to a school far from their potential next step.

“Our talent development processes must be uniquely designed to allow our guardians to thrive and reach their full potential,” Katharine Kelley, the service’s human capital chief, said in a release. “We must deliberately grow our guardians to think, act and fight strategically with an understanding of how they fit into the larger ecosystem of the space community.”

Rachel Cohen is the editor of Air Force Times. She joined the publication as its senior reporter in March 2021. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Frederick News-Post (Md.), Air and Space Forces Magazine, Inside Defense, Inside Health Policy and elsewhere.

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