The Navy recently loosened their Tuition Assistance (TA) requirements. One reason was to keep more sailors in uniform. By doing so, they hope it will be easier to meet their 2023 recruiting goal of adding an additional 20,000 sailors to their ranks. Their rationale is it is cheaper to keep trained sailors than it is to find, train and educate new recruits.
The Navy also sees sailor post-secondary education as a way to better teach critical thinking skills. The Navy predicts intellectual development, of which critical thinking is a part, as one of the keys to its future warfighting capability. As equipment becomes more and more complex, sailors will have to have better critical thinking skills to operate and maintain it.
In February 2019, the Secretary of the Navy made critical thinking an important part of the new Education for Seapower campaign.
Navy Tuition Changes
One big TA change the Navy made was eliminating their previous cap of 16 semester hours per fiscal year per sailor and a $250 per credit hour tuition cost cap. They also increased the yearly cap from $4,000 per year per student to $4,500. The elimination of one cap and increasing the other now allows sailors to better manage how (and where) they take courses. Between the two, sailors can now enroll in higher rated schools, and the Navy will still pick up the total cost (up to the $4,500 yearly cap).
Another big change the Navy made is it closed many of their college offices on bases and went to a centralized online system, making it easier to request TA approval and enroll in classes. While the Navy thought enrollment would go down because of the office closures, the effect was just the opposite. With their simplified and more streamlined system, TA use has risen dramatically.
In fiscal year 2018, the Navy spent $85.2 million on TA, funding 130,000 courses for 42,000 sailors. For the 2019 fiscal year, the Navy is running out of TA money, having spent 80% of it already in the first two quarters.
Why? First, 5,384 more soldiers are using Navy TA than in the last fiscal year. Drilling deeper, the figures show 19% more sailors are taking 36% more courses at an unexpected and non-budgeted cost of an additional $15.9 million. Another reason is the Pentagon decreased the Navy’s TA budget for the current fiscal year by $10 million, down to $75 million because they thought closing college offices would result in fewer sailors using TA.
The Navy said that sailors already enrolled in TA with approved education plans and paid vouchers will not be affected by the budget shortfall. However, no new vouchers for fiscal 2019 will be approved once funding is drained unless more money becomes available from other sources.