Each year, an average of 45,000 Sailors take advantage of Tuition Assistance (TA), which pays tuition and fees for course enrollments toward completion of a high school diploma or college degree. Since 1974, the Navy has spent more than $1.5 billion funding TA requests for Sailors to take more than 5 million courses. While TA is the most popular Voluntary Education (VOLED) program the Navy offers, it's just one of many that have been available for decades to Sailors working on furthering themselves and their careers by meeting educational and credentialing goals.
Back in the early '70s, the United States was transitioning to an all-voluntary military force, which meant the services needed incentives to recruit people and then keep them past their first enlistment. Survey data showed education benefits among the top reasons people joined a military service. A story in the May 1974 edition of All Hands magazine reported it as the most important single incentive.
Because of this demand signal, Navy Campus for Achievement (NCFA) was officially established May 14, 1974. In 1999 the Navy Campus name changed to the Navy College Program (NCP) and is currently administered by the Voluntary Education directorate of the Center for Personal and Professional Development, located in Virginia Beach, Va.
NCFA was designed to help Sailors, regardless of duty location, to enroll in a certificate or degree program with a participating institution and be guaranteed of certain policies that were to the Sailors' advantage. These policies included no school residency requirements, acceptance of transfer credits from regionally accredited institutions, and the maximum possible credits for Navy courses and experience, which were among the stipulations participating schools agreed to follow. At the time NCFA launched, seven educational institutions participated in the program. Now 4,041 educational institutions participate in a Navy VOLED program.
Educational programs existed in 1974 to help service members develop personally and professionally, yet the services had different approaches to what they offered members. For example, the Air Force established the Community College of the Air Force to award academic credits and certificates. The Navy, however, realized not all Sailors wanted to complete a college degree and preferred to focus on vocational-technical skills. VOLED was designed to help all Sailors achieve their goals, regardless of career focus.
Over the past 40 years, the Navy has continually developed and refined programs such as TA that are a great financial deal for Sailors to help as many as possible reach their educational goals. For example, a column by Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Robert Walker in the April 1976 edition of All Hands magazine discussed the Navy's TA policy that covered 75 percent of tuition and enrollment fees the service funded. An October 2002 policy change increased that to 100 percent, and TA funding will continue at this percentage in Fiscal Year 2015.
"When TA increased from 75 to 100 percent, I jumped at the opportunity," said Chief Petty Officer Anton Fitz, a personnel specialist serving as VFA-204's personnel office leading chief petty officer. Fitz used TA to complete an associate degree in 2009 and a bachelor's in management in 2013. "Without TA, I could not afford to attend school due to limited grants and scholarships," he said.
Another great deal for Sailors is Navy College Program for Afloat College Education (NCPACE), which provides Sailors assigned to ships and deployable commands (Type 2 and 4 duty) with educational opportunities on par with what's available to Sailors on shore duty. Tuition is funded at 100 percent, and students are responsible only for the cost of textbooks and related materials.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Davin Blain, a cryptologic technician (collection) assigned to Navy Information Operations Command Georgia at Fort Gordon, Ga., has used NCPACE to work on a master's degree, which he plans to use after his Navy service to teach music or history.
"VOLED helped me start my academic career," Blain said. "I started using NCPACE as soon as I got on board. I love how the Navy helps Sailors achieve their educational goals while we are in the middle of the ocean. We are truly blessed to have professors to teach on the ship."
Blain is one of more than 279,500 Sailors who have participated in NCPACE, which was originally called PACE when established in 1974 as part of NCFA. Sailors back then could take courses whether shored-based or deployed through instructors in a classroom. Today's Sailors can also access college courses through a CD or the Internet.
As in the 70s, the college track isn't the only type of VOLED opportunity currently available for Sailors.
Petty Officer 1st Class John Rozyczko, an electronics technician assigned to USS Maryland (SSBN 738) serving as the command career counselor, completed maintenance mechanic and electronics technician journeyman certificates using the United Services Military Apprenticeship Program (USMAP) and is currently enrolled in a counselor trade.
USMAP is a formal military training program that provides active duty Coast Guard, Marine Corps, and Navy service members the opportunity to improve their job skills and complete U.S. Department of Labor civilian apprenticeship requirements during their normal work hours. Established in 1976, more than 350,500 Sailors have enrolled in USMAP. Last year, more than 6,300 Sailors like Rozyczko completed a certificate. The most popular trade in the program is computer operator. Also popular for the life of the program have been certificates for electrician trades as well as for counselors. The most recently added certificate opportunity is "Criminal Investigator."
Rozyczko described USMAP as a stepping stone in his overall career path at the right cost. "It seemed like a no brainer," he said. "It's free and simple to complete. It's helped with learning more of my job and to be more knowledgeable, and it will help later in my civilian career."
Some Sailors take advantage of as many VOLED programs as possible during their Navy service, such as Petty Officer 1st Class Sean Kriloff, a Navy counselor assigned to Navy Recruiting District Portland, Ore. He completed a USMAP office manager certificate in October of 2006 and a counselor trade this May. He has also used NCPACE and TA while working on a bachelor's in human resources with an emphasis in counseling, which he plans to complete by 2018.
Kriloff said he chose to use VOLED to further himself personally and professionally and to have something to fall back on when he eventually ends his Navy career, whether through separation or retirement. "VOLED has allowed me to continue my military career while working on my education goals. I have a sense of accomplishment knowing I have worked toward something that I can show my children - my career and my education. Without VOLED, continuing higher education while on active duty wouldn't be possible," he said.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Cesar Ward, a transfer supervisor aboard USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69), used TA, as well as his Post-9/11 GI Bill education benefit, to earn a bachelor's degree in criminal justice in March. He also plans to complete a USMAP computer specialist certificate by the end of the year and said these will be part of the officer commissioning package he plans to submit. "Joining the Navy was the best decision I've ever made," he said. "The Navy has helped me receive my degree, support my family financially and has given me access to use different VOLED programs. My degree will help me achieve my Navy career goals."
One former enlisted Sailor who said VOLED was instrumental to his success was Capt. David Meron, the commanding officer of Naval Support Activity Bahrain. Meron used TA to earn a bachelor's in computer science in 1990, which led to his commissioning that same year. "My degree got me a commission in the Navy and has allowed me to continue serving for 32 years, now," he said. Reflecting on whether he would have attained his educational goals without using VOLED he simply said, "probably not."
As in 1974, today's VOLED professionals are dedicated to providing unbiased advice and counsel to Sailors to help them reach their education and credentialing goals in the best way for each Sailor and at the lowest cost for them.
"There are so many choices of educational institutions and paths that Sailors can get overwhelmed trying to decide what school and program is just right for them," said Capt. John Newcomer, CPPD's commanding officer. "Our Virtual Education Center and 33 Navy College Offices serve as honest brokers to help Sailors find the best school and degree match for them. The VOLED team is completely dedicated to helping Sailors succeed."
Now 40 years - and thousands of Sailors with degrees and certificates - later, Navy VOLED continues to celebrate the success of each Sailor, such as Petty Officer 1st Class Nhatnguyen Tran, a master-at-arms assigned to Naval Base Kitsap, Wash., who finished her associate degree in 2009 and is nearly complete with a bachelor's in finance using TA. Tran said that finishing her degrees has given her a sense of accomplishment and encourages shipmates to take advantage of VOLED programs, despite the challenges.
"It's tough going to school full time while serving in the Navy or any other military branch, for that matter," she said. "It takes commitment, sacrifice and self-discipline to finish a four-year degree, but it will be well worth it at the end. One thing I can definitely advise to other Sailors is not to sit around and waste time, but to invest in their education for a better future."
Taking advantage of tuition assitance is simple. Click HERE for Tuition Assistance Made Easy, an article that highlihgts the top 5 things you need to know about filing for TA.
Click HERE for more information about the Center for Personal and Professional Development.
Click HERE for more information on the Navy College Program.