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Navy still has tuition assistance money available

SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — While other services’ tuition programs are turning troops away, the Navy has more tuition assistance cash than it can use, Navy officials said this month.

As of Feb. 28, the Navy had disbursed $37 million of $86 million allotted for fiscal 2014 — about $5 million less than at the same time last year because of a decrease in enrollment, according to Susan Henson, spokeswoman for the Navy’s Center for Personal and Professional Development. Navy officials blamed the drop in enrollment on the government shutdown in October and uncertainty with the federal budget.

The Navy was the only branch of the four services that didn’t make significant changes to its tuition assistance program for fiscal 2014.

Navy officials said they believe all of the money allocated for tuition assistance will be spent by the end of the fiscal year.

More than 25,000 sailors have received funds so far this fiscal year, 3,000 fewer than the same time frame last year and 4,000 fewer than in fiscal 2012, Henson said.

Navy officials said money allocated by the Defense Department for education benefits will be lost if unused. The Navy plans its quarterly allocation of tuition assistance funds around the times that colleges typically start classes to ensure the most funds are available at the right times. Officials say most requests for financial help are received in the first and second quarters of each fiscal year.

The Navy is seeking $66 million for tuition assistance for next fiscal year, Navy officials said.

Under the proposed plan, sailors will have to pay 25 percent of their tuition bills, similar to tuition assistance program before 2003.

“It has been said that ‘having skin in the game’ provides added incentive to stay focused and aligned with their education plans,” said Lt. Cmdr. Chris Servello, spokesman for the chief of Naval Personnel. “Once a final decision is made, we will provide updated guidance to the Fleet.”

Tuition assistance has come under assault in the past 12 months following the DOD sequestration and the government shutdown in October.

In March 2013, the Army, Marines and Air Force temporarily shut down their tuition assistance programs following the first round of defense budget cuts. The Navy chose to keep its program running.

In many ways, the Army, Air Force and Marines made it more difficult for troops to get cash for college, including limiting the number of classes a servicemember could take, or giving assistance only to troops getting good grades in college.

“We can’t comment on the policies of the other services,” Henson said in an email. The “Navy has kept its commitment to Sailors to fund voluntary education programs that serve as a conduit for developing them personally and professionally.”

However, all four branches halted the program for three weeks in October after Congress’ failure to pass an emergency spending measure led to a partial government shutdown.

The Marine Corps added a host of restrictions to its tuition assistance program for fiscal 2014, limiting the number of Marines eligible for subsidized college courses. The move resulted in a 75 percent decrease from the number of Marines enrolled in the first quarter of fiscal 2013.

Air Force officials have made some changes to their tuition assistance policy as well. Their first quarter numbers dropped 33 percent on last year’s.

Starting Jan. 1, the Army instituted eligibility restrictions and caps on semester hours.

burke.matt@stripes.com

 

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