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Navy's off-duty education program reaches 4-decade benchmark

May. 17, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
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In the 40 years that the Navy has been paying for off-duty education, it has spent nearly $1.5 billion to fund sailors’ classes.

The Navy’s Voluntary Education, or VOLED, program was officially launched May 14, 1974, as Navy Campus For Achievement — a name shortened by the end of the decade to the Navy College Office. It became the Navy College program in 1999 and has stayed under that banner ever since.

“We still have the original newsletters from those early days,” said Sharen Richardson, who heads the Navy’s Virtual Education Center in Dam Neck, Va. “When the program first started, many of our counselors were hired away from the Air Force.”

That’s because, Richardson said, that the Navy could offer them higher government service ratings.

The end result, she said, was experienced military counselors who helped get the program off the ground.

“And today, the program’s goals are still the same: to provide sailors with the best off-duty education opportunities possible,” she said.

By the numbers, since 1974, the Navy has officially spent $1,470,310,730 for 4,951,730 courses. Each year, on average, 15 percent of people in the Navy use the program. And more than 132,000 degrees have been entered into sailors’ service records since the Navy began documenting them in 1985.

The program had some rough times when sequestration kicked in in 2013, but Navy officials managed to keep the doors open — save for a few weeks during the government shutdown, when enrollments stopped.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert recently committed to fully funding the program, up to 16 credits annually, after initially signaling the service would start to require sailors to fund 25 percent of their courses out of pocket.

Full funding hasn’t always been the case, however.

When the program first started, that 75-25 split was in place for junior sailors — E-6 and above got a slightly better deal, with the Navy picking up 80 percent and the sailor the remaining 20 percent. ■

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