NCPACE, one of the numerous programs administered by Navy Voluntary Education (VOLED), is offered to officers and enlisted sailors assigned to ships and deployable commands 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 2013, accounting for more than 10,700 enrollments. One participant is John Phillips, with the U.S. Navy Blue Angels. In December, he completed a Master of Arts in administrative leadership through OU’s College of Liberal Studies.
“I enlisted in the Navy to serve my country and was aware the GI Bill provided an opportunity to complete my education. Once in the Navy, the additional educational benefits offered such as tuition assistance (TA), NCPACE and college-level exams came as a welcome surprise,” Phillips said. “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” 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 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 them to complete coursework toward a diploma or degree.
Coupled with the low cost, this 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, Fla.
“Having only to foot the bill for books and course materials is a big savings for sailors. Taking courses through NCPACE is a really good way for them to continue their education, especially when they’ve maxed out their TA for the year,” he said.
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 whether the course is instructor led or distance led,” he said. “This, along with the number of terms a command requests, will determine the number of NCPACE courses a sailor can complete in a year.”
The instructor led delivery method provides an instructor teaching courses while a ship is underway or pier side, while the distance led 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 academic skills classes in math, reading and writing to help sailors improve their skills in those areas. Phillips said sailors participating in NCPACE should choose the right course delivery method and be ready to maintain self-discipline.
“The distance led 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. The instructor led 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,” he said.
Phillips added, “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.”
Navy voluntary education director Ernest D’Antonio, 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 voluntary ed programs, their sailors are learning critical thinking and analytical skills that help them make informed decisions and perform at a higher level, which contributes to overall mission accomplishment.”
For more information on the Navy College Program, visit: https://www.navycollege.navy.mil/
By: Susan D. Henson, Center for Personal and Professional Development Public Affairs, U.S. Navy