VIRGINIA BEACH -- The head of the Navy's personnel command says the service remains the only branch of the military that isn't planning to eliminate college tuition assistance for active duty service members.
Chief of Naval Personnel Vice Adm. Scott Van Buskirk made the remarks during a question and answer session this morning with about 1,000 sailors at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek.
Tuition assistance has been a hot topic among service members since automatic federal budget cuts known as sequestration went into effect earlier this month. The Army, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard have each suspended new enrollments for tuition assistance and advised those currently enrolled that they will have to find other sources of funding for future courses.
The first question after Van Buskirk opened the floor inside the Gator Theater at Little Creek was related to the future of the Navy's tuition program.
"I was wondering how long it was going to take to get to that question," said Van Buskirk, who oversees the program.
Van Buskirk said the Navy doesn't plan to cut the program this fiscal year, which ends in October. It's possible, he said, that the service will ask active duty sailors enrolling in the program in future years to pay a 25 percent tuition match -- as was the policy a decade ago -- if federal budget cuts are not reversed. No decision has been made, he said.
"We value it, and that's why we're going to continue it give it," Van Buskirk said.
Because of more stringent enrollment requirements, the Navy's tuition assistance program represents a smaller portion of its budget compared with other services, Van Buskirk said. That explains part of the reason the Navy has been able to protect the program. The Army, for example, spends more than $300 million on tuition assistance each year, while the Navy spends around $84 million, Van Buskirk said.
The tuition assistance program is separate from college benefits guaranteed to veterans under the G.I. Bill. Benefits promised under the G.I. Bill are exempt from sequestration cuts.