According to a report by the Virginia Pilot, Vice Admiral Van Buskirk, Chief of Naval Personnel, said that the Navy does not plan to suspend tuition assistance for its active duty sailors. This news comes as a relief to the nearly 45,000 Navy personnel who currently use their TA benefits, especially following the suspension of the Army, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard TA programs last week.
Van Buskirk made the impromptu announcement during a Q and A session at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek. However, Military.com's Richard Sisk was told by a Navy spokesmen in Van Buskirk's office, that no decisions have been made yet and the future of TA was being gauged against the budgetary constraints imposed by the Congressional sequestration process.
Van Buskirk said the Navy’s cost for operating program was much smaller than the other services, which could enable them to maintain the program through the sequestration cuts. By comparison the Navy spends about $85 million on tuition assistance for 45,000 sailors, while the Army’s TA program costs over $300 million.
Over the last several years the Navy has implemented eligibility limitations, reduced the number of courses (credit hours) a sailor can take, and implemented pre-enrollment requirements such as a TA online prep-course. These policies have helped the Navy control the cost and ensure that those who take advantage of TA are successful.
The Virginia Pilot article also reported that Van Buskirk indicated that the Navy may reduce the tuition assistance benefit by 25 percent in fiscal year 2014, effectively returning to the 75 percent payment rates that were in effect until 2002.
The Navy currently pays 100 percent tuition assistance up to $250 per Semester Credit Hour not to exceed 16 Semester Hours ($4,000) per Fiscal Year. A 25 percent reduction in tuition payments would mean the Navy would only cover a maximum of $187.50 per credit hour, which means $62.50 per class or as much as $1000 (possibly more) a year in out-of-pocket expenses for sailors who choose to use their Navy Tuition Assistance.
As a reminder to those facing the possible TA roll-back, there is a little known program called Tuition Assistance "Top-Up" which helps servicemembers cover the out-of-pocket costs by applying a portion of their GI Bill benefits toward the cost of classes. This program was originally created in 2000, but has been rarely used since the TA rates were increased to 100 percent in 2002.
Unfortunately, the program could have negative impact on servicemember's overall 36 month GI Bill benefit entitlement. Here is how the VA explains how "Top-up" impacts a member's GI Bill entitlement:
- If enrolled in the Montgomery GI Bill the entitlement is charged based on the dollar amount of benefits VA pays (not the training time). The entitlement will be charged one month for each payment made by the VA that is equal to the full time monthly rate for the GI Bill.
- If enrolled in the Post-9/11 GI Bill the entitlement is charged based on the training time (not actual cost). If taking classes at the 1/2 time training level the entitlement will be charged 1/2 month of Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits for each month of enrollment.
Note: Most of today’s active duty members are eligible for the Post 9/11 GI Bill.