VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — The chief of naval personnel sought to reassure sailors on Tuesday that the Navy wants to keep the service’s tuition assistance program intact, despite intense budget pressures that have forced other military branches to suspend theirs.
The Army, Air Force, Coast Guard and Marines have all suspended their tuition assistance programs as a result of automatic budget cuts that took effect March 1.
The tuition assistance program pays up to $250 per semester hour for active-duty personnel, or as much as $4,000 per year. A question by a sailor asking whether the program would be terminated was the first one posed to Vice Adm. Scott Van Buskirk at an all-hands call meeting at a theater at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story.
“That’s been the topic on people’s minds, even if they don’t take it,” he said. “It’s very, very important for them to know that they could take it if it’s available. It’s kind of like retirement, in a way, for the same thing. It’s viewed as a program that people think they should be able to take.”
Van Buskirk told more than 1,000 sailors that his goal is to maintain the program for everyone who is eligible, at least for the fiscal year that runs through September.
He later told reporters that there have been discussions about possibly restructuring the program in the future. He noted that until 2002, the Navy split the costs with its sailors, who picked up 25 percent of the tab.
“We remain the only service that’s continuing tuition assistance, and I think that’s a testimony to how valuable we think the program is, and that we think that investment makes sense as we go forward,” Van Buskirk said.
“I wish I could tell you right now it’s approved to continue, but hopefully we’ll have that answer here in the near future.”
He says the Navy has about 45,000 sailors participating in the program and that 25,000 people have gotten degrees through it in the past three years.
He said the Navy has been able to keep its tuition assistance program because it spends less on it than other branches. He said the Navy spends about $84 million a year on the program, while the Army’s program costs more than $300 million, and that the Air Force’s costs about $200 million.