The Navy is adjusting its tuition assistance policy for FY2022 so sailors may rack up 18 semester credit hours each year — up from 12 credit hours. But, the service is also imposing new restrictions on who is eligible to tap into tuition assistance benefits, and is reducing overall funding.

“We are committed to ensuring fully qualified Sailors can take advantage of this increased educational opportunity in a manner that reinforces our commitment to professionalism, warfighting, and retention,” Vice Adm. John B. Nowell, Jr., the chief of naval personnel, wrote in a new naval administrative message.

“Operational readiness remains our top priority,” Nowell wrote. “As always, commanding officers may establish benchmark qualifications for Sailors and officers under their command, and manage off-duty education pursuit, based on current or anticipated operational commitments.”

The Navy has programmed $67.37 million for tuition assistance in FY22 — a drop from the $88.54 million allocated for tuition assistance in FY21. But according to Lt. Travis Callaghan, a spokesman for the chief of naval personnel, the Navy only spent $72.717 million to fund eligible tuition assistance requests in FY21 and the remaining funding was ultimately diverted to other “high priority programs.”

Capt. Dave Hecht, a spokesman for the chief of naval personnel, said funding for tuition assistance in FY21 was adjusted “based on projected need such that no Sailor was denied Tuition Assistance in FY21″ due to budget constraints. This year’s budget for tuition assistance is similar to the funding the program has been given in recent years.

“While the FY21 TA budget was $88.54 million, this was the result of a one-time plus-up at the direction of then acting Secretary of the Navy [Thomas] Modley,” Hecht said in an email to Navy Times. “As such, it was an outlier compared to TA budgets from the recent past. For example, the FY20 TA budget was $71.7 million.”

While the overall number of semester credits sailors can use annually has grown, sailors are limited to only using tuition assistance to cover two classes per quarter of the fiscal year, per guidance from the secretary of the Navy.

“The two courses per fiscal quarter limit was added to ensure Sailors’ pursuit of off-duty education does not detract from their professional development and duties,” Callaghan, said in an email to Navy Times.

“Courses with labs are typically four semester hours,” Callaghan said. “The two courses per fiscal quarter policy offered greater flexibility than a six semester hour per fiscal quarter limit, which would not allow a Sailor to take a four semester hour lab course and another three semester hour course at the same time.”

Another significant policy change is that sailors must have three years of service under their belt to become eligible for tuition assistance benefits, rather than two years of service. That means that those who started taking advantage of tuition assistance benefits after two years of service — but have yet to reach the three year mark — must pause their education.

Likewise, officers qualify for tuition assistance benefits upon promotion to lieutenant.

And, both active duty enlisted sailors with less than 16 years of service and reservists on active duty order must have at least 12 months left of service on their current enlistment or extension at the time courses start to qualify for the tuition assistance benefits.

“The 12 month policy is intended to foster continued service in the Navy, while recognizing the long-term career investment of Sailors approaching retirement eligibility,” the Navy said in a news release.

Reservists on one-year orders also lose eligibility for tuition assistance under the new policy.

The Navy is also tightening eligibility for those with non-judicial punishment or a court martial. Whereas sailors previously couldn’t have either within the past six months to become eligible for tuition assistance, that’s now been changed to 12 months.

All sailors are required to have at least a 3.0 or greater individual trait marks on their most recent observed evaluation of fitness report to qualify as well.

Under the new policy, sailors are limited to spending $250 per semester hour and $4,500 annually each fiscal year toward tuition assistance benefits — an increase from previous years. For example, sailors were limited to $3,000 in tuition assistance annually in FY20 after funds prematurely dried up in FY19.

More than 37,000 sailors used tuition assistance benefits in FY21, and the Navy anticipates that between 33,000 and 36,000 sailors will use tuition assistance benefits in FY22. In comparison, 36,704 sailors used tuition assistance benefits in FY20, while 38,853 sailors did so in FY19.

That’s fewer sailors than previous years. Between FY15 and FY18, the yearly average number of sailors who used tuition assistance was 44,000.

The new policy takes effect Oct. 1.

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to include comments on the budget from Capt. Dave Hecht.

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