The Navy’s plan to completely close the doors on all of their Navy College Program Offices in FY-2017 is coming under fire by officials in the Department of Defense.
The Navy’s plan is to close all of its current Navy College Program offices and revert to a customer service call center type operation, where Sailors will call in or login to a virtual account to get assistance with their educational program and tuition assistance. The Navy says by closing the offices, the level of service to Sailors will not change, and the funds will be diverted to provide additional funding to the Navy’s tuition assistance program.
One of the reasons why the Navy is seeking to close the college offices, is that in 2015, the Navy reported that of the 45,000 Sailors using tuition assistance, 83% were taking online courses. The rational being the majority of students are obtaining their education virtually and therefore, their support services should also be virtual. If the DoD approves the proposal the Navy will be the only branch of service without face-to-face educational counseling and advising services on their installations.
According to a 27 January 2016 letter to the Sec. of Defense, Ash Carter, by Gary D. Harrah, president of the National Association of Institutions for Military Education Services; the concern being raised by academic institutions questions the wisdom of eliminating face-to-face educational services. There is merit in the concerns from the academics, as there are three learning styles (visual, auditory, and kinesthetic) and not every person, let alone Sailor, does well in an online learning environment. Also, there are a number of courses which simply pose a challenge to online learners and are better suited for a face-to-face classroom setting.
The issue as I see it regarding the closing of the base college offices, is whether or not the colleges that have been supporting Sailors on installations, have the ability and capability of providing adequate academic support services in an online venue rather than in a face-to-face mode.
Whether or not a college is providing classes on an installation, or if the Navy has “counselors” available in a call center 15 hours a day is not the issue. The issue should be, whether or not a college providing online education to Sailors, has the capability to provide an adequate level of academic support to its students. Since the majority of online college programs are asynchronous, there is no specific login times for students allowing students to study literally on their own time, colleges and universities should provide nearly 24/7 academic and technical support to their students. Schools should establish best practices for their faculty with regard to getting back to students that are having issues, and in responding to student questions and emails. What is lost in the Navy’s proposal is the ability of the Sailor to stop into the Navy College Office on their installation to address an issue and have it resolved in a timely manner.
Saving tuition assistance dollars is a good thing, limited resources must be stewarded. Certainly, the administration of a tuition assistance program can be conducted virtually. However, what is more important is ensuring the schools Sailors are attending have the resources necessary to assist them in completing and earning their degree. Hopefully, the Navy will enact or enhance some best practice requirements for schools wishing to receive Navy TA funds in the future, and perhaps begin to hold schools accountable for student retention and graduation rates.