IT DOESN’T HAPPEN VERY OFTEN, but, in this case, we agree with the Clinton administration: There is no compelling reason to ask U.S. taxpayers to continue paying the tuition of students at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy.
In preparing consecutive issues of this magazine and of our sister publication Professional Mariner, we routinely interact with graduates and students of all merchant marine academies in the U.S. It would be nice to say that USMMA grads seem to be brighter, better trained, more professional, or, in the words of one U.S. senator, "better prepared to interact with the military;" but that just doesn’t seem to be the case. The truth is, it’s hard to tell them apart.
There are more than a half-dozen top-flight academies training merchant marine deck and engineering officers in this country, and it no longer makes sense for the government to finance just one of them.
It’s true that the beautiful academy at Kings Point, New York, has many loyal and sentimental alumni, many of whom have, over the decades, made strong contributions to our merchant marine, as well as to our military sealift and ready-reserve system. But we suspect that nowadays just as many strong contributions are made by graduates of California Maritime, Maine Maritime, Massachusetts Maritime, Great Lakes Maritime, or any of the other schools.
These institutions are all producing good officers. When our nation needs them in time of war, they will be there to man the ships. (Whether the ships will be there is another story). As long as jobs are available within the maritime industry there will always be merchant marine officers available when the nation needs them. The way to assure a steady supply of officers is to assure a steady supply of jobs. And so long as there are jobs available there will be high school graduates willing to pay tuition at privately-financed merchant marine schools. Every dollar counts in today’s national economy. Members of the Clinton administration have suggested that many dollars could be saved by ending 100% subsidies to USMMA. Legislation has been introduced that would impose a system of tuition and fees on USMMA students equal to an amount of up to half of total operating costs of the academy. Reports indicated that the amount would be about $14,000 per year for each student. Meanwhile, an alternate group of congressmen who consider themselves maritime enthusiasts, have introduced additional legislation which would prohibit the government from charging tuition at the merchant marine academy of any of the other national service academies. Clearly, we still need our naval academy and its sister military schools. As for the merchant marine academy, it’s hard to build a case other than one of sentiment.