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CNO: You may have to pay for tuition benefit

Nov. 30, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  

The Navy plans to fully fund its tuition assistance coffers in fiscal 2014 at the same $84 million level it paid out in 2013. But after that, all bets are off.

As budget woes continue, top officials are considering ways to stretch TA dollars. One of those ways is a back-to-the-future proposal that could happen as soon as 2015: mandating sailors foot some of their TA bill.

“We may tweak it a little and ask people to pay a little to get tuition assistance — to get some skin in the game.” Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert said Nov. 14.

“It won’t happen in ’14, as fiscal 2014 tuition assistance is fully funded at the same [amount] that it was in 2013, and we’re still shaping the 2015 budget.”

Greenert didn’t define what that “skin” might be, but officials tell Navy Times the most likely scenario would be a return to when the Navy paid 75 percent of a sailor’s TA costs with the remaining 25 percent coming out of the sailor’s pocket — a program dumped in fiscal 2000.

Under the old plan, the Navy funded three-quarters of the Defense Department’s $4,500 limit. Now, it funds all of the current $4,000, 16-credit cap.

Personnel officials who have studied the situation say asking individuals to foot some of the bill will make them more personally invested. That reduces the chance they might fail the course and have to pay the Navy back.

“If you fail a course, there should be some kind of accountability,” Greenert said. “I want people to be able to pursue education, [so] we need tuition assistance at the proper level.”

This past spring, when sequestration caused the other services to temporarily cancel TA funding, the Navy stood firm, saying it was committed to maintaining TA at some level even after a March 5 memo from DoD Comptroller Robert Hale suggested the services “consider significant reductions in funding new tuition assistance applicants.”

Instead of nixing the program altogether, as the other services initially did, the Navy asked DoD for permission to revert to a TA program that required sailors to pay 25 percent of their tuition, with the service picking up the tab for 75 percent.

Career-relevant classes

Greenert said he wants to ensure everyone in the Navy has the chance to use TA to enhance their Navy career, but reiterated that the Navy will stand fast on its requirement that sailors have an education plan on file before taking classes.

“We don’t have the money, nor do I think we should be enticing people to just go out and just take courses, with no true goals,” he said.

“I want to make sure people are able to get relevant education to provide a relevant skill, and both of those things are important.”

Meanwhile, the Navy is still working to find out if any of the 1,200 sailors who signed up for tuition assistance during the government shutdown Oct. 1-16 were disadvantaged financially and if the service will be able to do anything about it.

“No final decision has been made, we are working to determine if we have the legal authority to pay these claims, even partially,” said Lt. Cmdr. Chris Servello, spokesman for the chief of naval personnel.

The work is in the early stages. The service has yet to say, for example, how many of those 1,200 actually went through with registering for classes after filing TA requests.

Previous laws had allowed military pays and allowances to be distributed during periods of government shutdown. But officials say that this year’s Pay Our Military Act, which added the ability for the services to pay bonuses during the shutdown, does not include benefits such as tuition assistance. ■

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