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An event held at the University of Maryland University College Europe (UMUC Europe) National Testing Center (NTC) this summer made it possible for a group of enterprising servicemembers to hasten their path to a college degree while saving a significant amount on tuition costs.

The event was a weeklong opportunity for students to test out of required college courses by taking—and passing—an unlimited number of standardized tests in any of the 33 college-level introductory subjects offered through the College Level Examination Program (CLEP). This “CLEP-a-thon” was hosted by Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. DANTES Subject Standardized Tests (DSSTs) were also available at the CLEP-a-thon.

The “winner” of the Landstuhl CLEP-a-thon was a U.S. Air Force airman who passed nine exams, earning him 30 credit hours.

“That’s the equivalent to nearly an entire year of college coursework completed within a one-week period,” said Jackie Brunson, UMUC Europe regional director for the Baumholder, Ramstein, and Kaiserslautern, Germany, community.

The runner-up, an Army servicemember in her last trimester of pregnancy, earned 27 semester hours after testing.

In all, 141 exams were passed during the CLEP-a-thon event, representing 567 college credits earned and $141,750 in tuition-cost savings.

CLEP exams and DSSTs, useful to all types of students, are an optimal way for military members and other busy professionals—who are frequently juggling careers while raising families and attending school—to achieve the necessary course credits for a college degree.

“On average, students working toward an associate’s or bachelor’s degree save between two and a half and ten months of time with CLEP exam credits,” said Letizia Norwood, NTC manager for UMUC Europe.

One week of unlimited CLEP tests can propel servicemembers toward a degree. The 90-minute tests, which are funded by DANTES and free to servicemembers the first time they take each test, are accepted at more than 2,900 colleges and universities in addition to UMUC. All exam results are available immediately.

UMUC opened its first NTC in Europe in 2009 and has since expanded to 54 centers internationally. There are 28 NTCs in Europe, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Turkey, and Bahrain; 19 in Asia; and seven in the United States. The NTCs are open to UMUC students, all U.S. military members and their families, and government service civilians with a Department of Defense ID card.

UMUC Europe hosted its first CLEP-a-thon at its NTC in Turkey in February 2012 and has been organizing them ever since. CLEP-a-thons are very popular and successful among students at other centers as well, with thousands having participated since their inception.

The Landstuhl Regional Medical Center CLEP-a-thon was not the first to be held in the greater region of Kaiserslautern and Ramstein, but it was very well received by the local U.S. military community and had a high level of support from the local military command. Active-duty military members volunteered to help organize the event and drum up participation.

While the goal of CLEP-a-thons is to help servicemembers earn a college degree, the events also bring local communities together.

Said Norwood, “There is nothing like the sense of camaraderie and level of encouragement that occurs when a CLEP-a-thon takes place. All participants are there to improve and push each other toward their goals. Seeing a student’s hard work pay off is a great morale boost for servicemembers and members of the entire community.”