I can hear the backlash from that title from here. However, before you put me in a position to be stoned by the masses I’d like to make my case and open the floor to your thoughts too.

My military service has been good to me. I have fairly good healthcare, I get paid well, I’ve learned a lot of life skills, and my jobs haven’t been all that bad either. I’m sure we can all agree that our education benefits over the last ten years or so have been rather awesome too. As a matter of perspective, if not an admission, I was able to pay for about 90 percent of my bacholor degree by way of tuition assistance (TA) while serving in the Coast Guard.

As a one-time Education Services Officer and full time education evangelist I can say that TA was an awesome tool. Times were great, until March 1st, 2013 came and messed that all up.

The deed known as Sequestration became a reality at the beginng of this month and immediately started changing things. From travel to schools and conferences in between life as I/we knew it had begun to alter.

In the Coast Guard alone our operational budget had to be cut by some 25 percent. As I actually type that out it doesn’t seem too bad. That is, until I remember that the word “operational” means search and rescue, among other things. As a measure to ensure the Coast Guard is able to continue saving lives and protecting the nations shores our leaders had to look around to find ways to fill that 25% gap with “non-operational” funds. It’s no surprise that TA was eliminated. I am surprised, however, it didn’t happen sooner if only as a cost saving measure.

Over the last year, give or take, the question of when/if TA is going to be cut or reduced had been broached by many. Though I had no official word from higher authority my gut told me it was in trouble; with or without sequestration. Nonetheless, in the end four of the five military services, USCG included, killed their TA funding.

As of today only the Navy is holding on to its TA program, at least through the end of the current fiscal year (FY13). Congress saved TA for everyone but the Coast Guard.

Aside from obvious fiscal savings- the act of dropping TA may be a subliminal tactic to keep only the best and the brightest in the ranks of our military. I don’t think you’ll actually hear anyone comment on that nor do I think it was a real reason to drop it. However, one has to remember that TA was not only a awesome deal but a recruiting and retentention tool too. How better to thin the ranks outside of the avenues already being taken?

So this leads me to why this ordeal is good. As mentioned this may be a way for the Coast Guard, and others, to retain only the best of their service, or at least the best educated. From my personal observations, with no real data to back it up, I’ve noticed that most of our senior Enlisted folks, as well as most Officers above O-2, hold some sort of degree or are perusing such. With the TA program currently dismissed, and the next fiscal year expected to bring only a fraction of the funds back for use, only those who are truly dedicated will get their education on their own dime*.

As I understand it NAVADMIN 263/04 (the link is broken to the actual message) from the Navy states, in so many words, that beginning in fiscal year 2011 an associate degree or equivalent that is rating-relevant will be a prerequisite for advancement to senior chief petty officer for active and reserve personnel. If this were true across all services then only the best educated would be the leaders.

It’s true that an education doesn’t mean you’re going to be a great leader but one has to admit that if we were required to get a degree in our specialty our military would be better for. We don’t need a retained workforce, we need an educated workforce to move forward in today’s world.

So the removal, or reduction, of tuition assistance will allow the Coast Guard to keep only the best and brightest in its ranks. If they were to go one step further and require certain degrees for certain jobs or certain ranks then we could truly be one of the best educated fighting nations in the world.

Does removal tuition assistance suck? Yes. But will it help the Coast Guard and other services in the long run? Also yes, if it is leveraged correctly.

Any thoughts on the matter?

Update 22 March 2013: The Coast Guard also reinstated its TA (http://www.uscgnews.com/go/doc/4007/1732873/)

* Rumors are tuition assistance in the Coast Guard is going to be back, but not nearly as robust as it once was.

Posted by Ryan Erickson in Coast Guard, Training & Education

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  • Ryan, The Senate restored reinstated tuition assistance for service members yesterday. The amendment passed by voice vote.

    • Thanks for pointing that out Jim. I almost didn’t post this because of that; however, I was unable to find anything in the news that the Coast Guard’s funding was restored.

  • 25%? That was not what sequestration called for. Congress has limited cuts to the DoD tuition assistance funds (for the military) to a maximum of what was dictated by sequestration. The department heads in Washington need to show us where the cuts were made, and by what percentage. When sequestration was agreed to, there was a bipartisan compromise where both sides admitted that we need cuts, and they also agreed to specific percentages. Nowhere does that add up to 25%…not even close. So, based upon this article, the Coast Guard need to explain why its’ cuts are much more drastic than what was called for?

    • Roughly 8.5% of the total budget was cut. But the departments spent money for the first half of the year on the assumption that sequestration would not come into effect. That effectively meant that the remaining budget had to be cut by 17%.

      Then the President notified Congress of his intent to exempt personnel accounts (pay, healthcare, etc). Under the rules of sequestration, he was permitted to do so, but a like dollar amount had to be trimmed from other accounts. As it works out, O&M funds are effectively the only accounts available to trim, hence the effective 25% cut in operations fund.

      • They need to demonstrate that they are capable of making reasonable cuts even in a crisis. The budget discussion has been going on for years, and years, and years. If they had cut tuition assistance by 25% (which has been discussed) 4 or more years ago, arguably that would have added up over time. They CAN cut in other areas. Every department can. I used to work for the government, and so I do have an understanding of what goes on within government programs and with spending. We were told that even if our department did not spend every penny in the budget…they had to spend it all, or they would not qualify for an increase for the next year. It is that kind of thinking that absolutely needs to change. Will it? That remains to be seen. I will say this…if there is any intention to cut tuition assistance in the future, they must start by cutting spouse and dependents tuition benefits, and then they must STOP encouraging the recruiters to sell the service based upon a benefit that is NOT guaranteed. We need to be completely honest with those who enlist.

  • And certainly they did not call for 100% cuts anywhere…

  • And, laughably, what no one mentioned in all of the publicity surrounding the tuition assistance cuts is that the spouses tuition assistance remained intact. We cut benefits for those who actually serve but protected the education of their spouses. A 100% cut for the one who serves, and a 0% cut for the one lucky enough to have married a military person. Who is making such utterly ridiculous decisions in the DoD (or Homeland Security?) budgets?