As you’ve probably heard, the Navy has made some dramatic changes in its Tuition Assistance program for active-duty sailors and members of the Naval Reserve.
Earlier this year, the Navy TA program ran out of money, due to greater-than-expected demand, leaving thousands of sailors temporarily unable to continue their off-duty education. At the time, the service announced the program will resume with the start of the new fiscal year in October, but with new rules governing eligibility and use.
Beginning 1 October 2019, the following changes will become effective for enlisted sailors using TA, or taking courses at sea under the Navy College Program for Afloat College Education (NCPACE):
A) All enlisted personnel and officers must have a minimum of two years of service before becoming eligible to use TA or NCPACE Instructor Led or Distance Learning (DL) courses. This may not be waived.
B) TA and NCPACE DL funding is capped at twelve semester hours (or equivalent quarter hours) per fiscal year.
C) TA and NCPACE DL funding is capped at 120 semester hours (or equivalent quarter hours) in a career. This excludes courses taken to complete a high school diploma.
The impact of these changes is obvious; many sailors will be half-way through their four year enlistment before they can start using TA or NCPACE funding to take college classes. And after becoming eligible, the Navy will pay for fewer classes (12 semester hours equals four classes). The previous TA limit, $4500 per year, was enough to cover six to nine classes, depending on a school’s tuition rate for military members.
While this situation sounds rather glum, sailors are not without options, and those options don’t mean using your GI Bill benefits on active duty, either. The military team at Thomas Nelson remains ready to assist you, and suggests the following steps in continuing your education.
- Use Other Forms of Financial Aid. Many enlisted sailors are eligible for Pell Grants, which provides up to $6500 a year in funds that do not have to be repaid. Eligibility is based on income; you can find out if you qualify by completing and submitting a Federal Student Financial Aid (FSFA) application. You’ll need a copy of your most recent tax information, and applicants can complete the form in about 20 minutes. Students receive their response in 4-6 weeks and it summarizes all types of financial aid they qualify for. Focus on the “free money” (such as Pell Grants) and utilize student loans only as a last resort.
- Leverage Your Military Training and Experience. In 2017, Thomas Nelson was among 23 Virginia community colleges to unveil a new military and veterans portal, known as Credits2Careers.org. The portal is the first to serve an entire community college system and allows service members, military retirees and veterans to research their credits and see how they fit into degree and certificate programs at member schools. You can upload your Joint Service Transcript (JST) or Community College of the Air Force (CCAF) transcript, or simply enter your military occupational specialty (MOS), rating, or career field and experience level. Credits2Careers will provide a preliminary credit estimate in a matter of seconds, and show how those credits satisfy degree requirements. Please note: this is an initial estimate; a final determination of transfer credit will be made upon review of your official transcript. But Credits2Careers represents a new chapter for Virginia Community Colleges (and our military students), based on recognizing--and rewarding--military credit at a much higher level than in the past. After enrolling at TNCC (or another VCCS school) you can send an electronic copy of your JST and request a credit evaluation.
- Gain Credit Through CLEP and DANTES Testing: As a sailor, you’re eligible to test for credit—at no cost—through the College Level Examination Program (CLEP) and the Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support (DANTES). Together, these programs offer exams in dozens of subjects that can award credit towards your degree plan. Talk to one of our military advisers about how these programs can work for you.
- Develop a Plan. One of the factors driving the Navy’s revised TA rules was the number of sailors taking college courses with no real plan for completing a degree. Obviously, education plans and goals may change, but you can build a solid foundation for any eventual bachelor’s by completing a college transfer associate’s degree at Thomas Nelson. Programs like our associate’s in Social Science, Liberal Arts, Science, Business Administration, Health Science and Engineering will lay the groundwork for your four-year degree. And, since Thomas Nelson is a regionally-accredited institution, credits earned with us will easily transfer to other colleges and universities.
- Communicate. Even if you’re using other forms of financial aid to pay for college, it’s still a good idea to discuss your plans with your supervisor or commander. They can offer advice on the feasibility of taking courses, given your schedule, unit workload and deployment schedules. You’ll find most have faced the same challenge of balancing a military career, education and a personal life, and they can offer advice on the best way to achieve your goals.
Need assistance? Contact a member of the Thomas Nelson Military Team at (757) 825-2938, or (757) 878-5344.