Naval Academy midshipmen get a free education courtesy of American taxpayers in exchange for serving five years in the military after graduation. But when students leave the academy — voluntarily or not — they often have to repay Uncle Sam for the cost of their education.
Two midshipmen are in the process of "disenrolling" from the academy as part of the fallout of a high-profile sexual assault case. But neither is likely to be hit with a tuition bill because the incident that led to their departure occurred before they agreed to serve in the military.
Generally, midshipmen can leave the academy within their first two years without repercussions, said Cmdr. John Schofield, an academy spokesman.
After two years, midshipmen sign commitment papers agreeing to serve at least five years as a military officer after graduation. At that point, they are on the hook for the cost of their education, estimated at $186,000, if they do not fulfill their commitment.
Midshipmen who are forced to repay do not always pay the full amount, based on a variety of factors, including how long he or she attended the academy, Schofield said. The final decision is made by the assistant secretary of the Navy for manpower and reserve affairs.
The Naval Academy could not immediately provide data on how many midshipmen have had to repay the government.
Midshipman Joshua Tate and Midshipman Eric Graham were accused of sexually assaulting a female classmate at an off-campus party in April 2012, before they were presented with commitment papers.
Criminal charges against Graham were dropped after the prosecution's case fell apart in pretrial rulings. He was disciplined internally for making false statements to investigators and granted immunity to testify in Tate's case at the Washington Navy Yard.
Ronald "Chip" Herrington, an attorney for Graham, said his client plans to transfer to a civilian university.
On Thursday, Tate was found not guilty of aggravated sexual assault and the academy dismissed charges of making false statements to investigators. The academy then announced that Tate would withdraw from the school.
A third midshipman who was investigated in the case, Tra'ves Bush, was not formally charged. He was allowed to graduate and was commissioned as an ensign in the Navy.