The Coast Guard has joined the Army and the Marine Corps in suspending new enrollments for the popular tuition assistance programs to meet the cost-cutting demands of the sequestration process, Coast Guard officials said Monday.
The order to suspend new enrollments was circulated internally over the weekend in the Coast Guard and has yet to be announced formally, but the Coast Guard has now ceased accepting applications for tuition assistance, said Lt. Paul Rhynard, a Coast Guard spokesman.
The Coast Guard, part of the Homeland Security Department, has 42,000 active duty personnel and 8,200 reservists, but Coast Guard officials could not immediately provide information on how many personnel currently take advantage of the continuing education assistance or the annual costs.
The Navy and the Air Force have been reviewing their own tuition assistance programs but have yet to make decisions on suspending new enrollments.
Last week, the Marine Corps and Army announced that new enrollments were being suspended indefinitely. The Army currently has 201,000 personnel receiving tuition assistance at an annual cost of $373 million and the Marines have 29,000 enrolled at an annual cost of $47 million.
In addition to the suspension of new enrollments, the services have also advised those already enrolled that when their current courses are completed, they will be considered new applicants for the next semester and will not be eligible for assistance.
The tuition assistance suspensions are part of a wide range of military spending cutbacks brought on by the Congressional sequester process that requires the Defense Department to reduce spending by $46 billion in the current fiscal year.
The continuing education programs have been hailed by the military as both opportunities for personal growth and assets to promotion. Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, underlined that message only last week.
In a speech to the World Affairs Council last Friday, Dempsey said "there’s nothing more important in democracy than education. Part of being a leader is a deep dedication to lifelong learning. If you don’t continue to learn, you’re stagnant and you fall behind."
Dempsey, who earned a graduate degree in literature from Duke University while in the military, referred to himself as the nation’s "highest ranking student" in extolling the values of education as a pathway to success.
Dempsey made no mention of the suspension of tuition assistance.
"We care because we know that education is a national strategic resource. Education is what feeds the hot fusion of innovation of trust, commerce and what makes our nation great. It illuminates the path to our greatness," he said.