The Navy's personnel chief told sailors Tuesday that he's pushing hard to break with the other services and retain tuition assistance programs, but he gave no guarantees that the popular continuing education plans could be salvaged in their current form.
"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," Vice Adm. Scott Van Buskirk told an all-hands meeting of about 1,000 sailors near Norfolk, Va., according to the Virginia Pilot newspaper.
"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 at the meeting at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story, the newspaper said.
Van Buskirk, the chief of Naval Personnel, said he favored keeping the TA program in its present form through the current fiscal year ending Sept. 30, but Navy spokesmen in Van Buskirk's office said later that no decisions have been made yet and the future of TA was being gauged against the budgetary constraints imposed by the Congressional sequestration process.
The Army, the Air Force, the Marine Corps and the Coast Guard in recent weeks all have suspended new enrollments for TA which currently provides up to $250 per credit hour to a total of $4,500 annually. In the Army alone, more than 200,000 soldiers take advantage of the program at an annual cost of about $383 million.
The services, with the exception of the Navy, have also advised personnel currently taking courses that they will not be eligible to apply for future courses.
Van Buskirk told the House Military Personnel Subcommittee last week that about 45,000 sailors are now enrolled in TA programs at an annual cost of about $84 million.
Adm. Jonathan Greenert, the chief of Naval Operations, is on record as favoring retention of the TA programs, possibly in a modified form, Navy spokesmen said.
After the all-hands meeting, Van Buskirk noted to reporters that until 2002, the Navy required sailors to pick up 25 percent of the costs of their continuing education while on active duty.