VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (NNS) -- College tuition is a huge bargain for Sailors taking classes through Navy College Program for Afloat College Education (NCPACE) — in fact it's almost free.
NCPACE, one of numerous programs administered by Navy Voluntary Education (VOLED), is offered to officer and enlisted Sailors assigned to ships and deployable commands (Type 2 and 4 duty) to provide undergraduate and graduate educational opportunities on par with those available to Sailors on shore duty. With tuition funded at 100 percent, students are responsible only for the cost of textbooks and related materials.
Approximately 7,200 individual Sailors participated in NCPACE in FY-13, accounting for more than 10,700 enrollments.
Commands must have an active NCPACE program for Sailors to participate. One such command is the U.S. Navy Blue Angels, which Maintenance Control team member and Education Services Officer (ESO) Aviation Maintenance Administrationman 1st Class (AW) John Phillips is glad about. Using NCPACE, he completed a Master of Arts in administrative leadership with the University of Oklahoma in December.
"I enlisted in the Navy to serve my country and was aware the GI Bill provided an opportunity to complete my education," said Philips. "Once in the Navy, the additional educational benefits offered such as Tuition Assistance (TA), NCPACE, and college-level exams came as a welcome surprise. Each time I reenlisted, the educational benefits — which far exceed those offered in most civilian employment — became a reinforcing factor for staying in."
Most Sailors hear "Voluntary Education" (VOLED) and tend to think of TA, which pays tuition for courses toward completion of a high school diploma, certificate, or technical or college degree. While TA is the most popular VOLED program the Navy offers, it has annual caps for each participant to ensure as many Sailors as possible have an opportunity to use it. NCPACE courses, however, don't count against a Sailor's annual maximum TA funding cap while still providing the means for Sailors to complete coursework toward a diploma or degree.
This, coupled with the low cost, makes NCPACE among the best educational deals the Navy offers, according to Lt. Cmdr. Mark Wadsworth, director of Voluntary Education Support Site Saufley Field in Pensacola, Florida.
"Sailors only having to foot the bill for books and course materials is a big savings for them," said Wadsworth."Taking courses through NCPACE is a really good way for Sailors to continue their education, especially when they've maxed out their TA for the year."
Wadsworth pointed out that all NCPACE schools are regionally accredited, meaning Sailors will have maximum flexibility in transferring credits to their home college. Another benefit of NCPACE is flexible term dates that can be tailored to a unit's deployment cycle at the unit ESO's request.
"While NCPACE doesn't have an annual credit hour cap like TA, we do limit Sailors to two NCPACE courses per term regardless of the delivery method being Instructor Led (IL) or Distance Led (DL)," he said. "This, along with the number of terms a command requests, will determine the number of NCPACE courses a Sailor can potentially complete in a year."
The IL delivery method provides an instructor teaching courses while a ship is underway or pierside, while the DL program allows the flexibility of independent study. NCPACE can be continued during in-port periods through coordination with the local Navy College Office, according to Wadsworth. The NCPACE program also offers IL academic skills classes in math, reading and writing to help Sailors improve their skills in those areas.
Chief Navy Counselor (SW/AW) Travis Cook, command career counselor and ESO for Assault Craft Unit One in Coronado, California, has taken NCPACE courses at four commands, which allowed him to earn an Associate of Applied Science through Excelsior College.
"I found out about NCPACE early in my career through my command career counselor and career development boards," said Cook. "I have no doubt that earning my degree has helped me reach the level I've obtained in the Navy as a chief petty officer. So now when I talk to junior Sailors, I tell them that education will not only benefit you when you decide to leave the service, but it can help you while you're still active."
Cook said finding time to participate in NCPACE is, indeed, possible.
"The most challenging part for me was balancing family, work and the education requirements," said Cook. "I would recommend that any Sailor who's interested to first talk to their command career counselor, a mentor or someone in their chain of command for guidance to make sure they meet command requirements and are eligible."
Phillips said Sailors participating in NCPACE should choose the right course delivery method and be ready to maintain self-discipline.
"The DL program is an outstanding opportunity for those who have the drive and tenacity to complete courses outside of a classroom environment, but it can be challenging for those who appreciate continual interaction from an instructor," said Phillips. "The IL program brings the instructor to the student, but it's still challenging because Sailors must dedicate what little free time they may have toward attending class and completing the coursework."
Cook said the key to any Sailor's success in NCPACE is to effectively prioritize personal responsibilities.
"I tell Sailors to remember that your job comes first," said Cook. "Make sure you're ready to handle the responsibility of work and taking classes. Don't rush into something you're not mentally prepared for. When the time is right, take advantage of all the benefits the Navy has to offer."
"Our leadership recognizes that off-duty education is voluntary, but they consider it valuable and a direct reflection on a Sailor's level of motivation for self-improvement," said Phillips. "As such, off-duty education has become a standard question during our Sailor of the Year and Quarter boards, mid-term counselings, and career development boards. Every Sailor is encouraged to take advantage of the various VOLED programs the Navy offers."
Navy VOLED Director Ernest D'Antonio, also a retired U.S. Marine, is personally aware of the challenge of taking courses while assigned to a deployed unit. He still hopes more Sailors will take advantage of NCPACE. "If Sailors who want a college degree take advantage of NCPACE when they can, it will cost them less time and money in the long run," he said. "This program is an all-around win for Sailors who are working toward their degree and trying to save money. It's also a win for participating commands because, just like all VOLED programs, their Sailors are learning critical thinking and analytical skills that help them make informed decision and perform at a higher level, which contributes to overall mission accomplishment."
To sign up for NCPACE, Sailors should contact their unit ESO or servicing Navy College Office.
For more information on the Navy College Program, visit: https://www.navycollege.navy.mil/.
For more news from the Center for Personal and Professional Development, visit http://www.navy.mil/local/voledpao/ .