WASHINGTON — A year after the Defense Department cuts mandated by the sequester, many professional military educators and their students worry that the military colleges across the country won’t be spared in the across-the-board cuts, creating an environment of job insecurity.

A decrease in student numbers at military colleges and universities is expected to be a result of Defense Department budget cuts resulting from the 2011 Budget Control Act. Most military personnel attend the dozens of colleges as an assigned duty that is also considered an honor and a needed stop on the way to promotion. Tuition is paid by the Pentagon or the service and can range as high as $75,000 a year.

While sequester cuts left alone military salaries and the Department of Veterans Affairs, the military tuition assistance programs were cut, but Congress helped reinstate it.

Implemented in March 2013, the sequester has since reduced the military budget by billions, and further cuts are expected this year. Already, the Army has shrunk its active-duty personnel from 570,000 to 490,000, and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced last month he plans further cuts to 440,000.

But so far there has not been a major reduction in funding for military education, but many people are expecting it, said Steven Bucci, director of foreign and national security policy at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.

“Traditionally when money gets tight, they skinny down the attendance …,”” Bucci said. “That has not necessarily hit home yet. I think everyone is expecting it to happen.”

Cynthia Watson, associate dean for research and outreach at the National War College in Washington, said she has noticed students there, who are generally lieutenant colonels and above, are worried about the future.

She recalled a time when her students in her military strategy class seemed distracted, and she asked why.

The answer: cuts in class sizes at the military colleges, especially for senior officers, means the normal path to promotion would be narrowed, setting a ceiling on their promotion possibilities and making them think about whether it’s time to consider other options.

“A number of the students, particularly from the Army or the Marine Corps, where we’ve seen the most dramatic downsizing (are) saying the environment they’ve been operating under the past years for has been changing dramatically,” Watson said.  “And the opportunities to incentivize them to stay are not there. And it’s not just they aren’t there, but it’s a much greater downsizing than they have ever seen ….  There’s a sense of can, ‘I be in school here,  and am I going to figure out that I can’t get a job?’”

Fewer students attending military colleges and universities as full-time residents could mean less of a chance of moving up in the ranks, Bucci said.

“It’s more prestigious to attend a war college on a resident basis rather than to do it by correspondence,” Bucci said.  “When it comes to the next promotion there may be fewer slots…The reason those things get a higher consideration is because when you are doing nothing but going to school you learn more of it than just doing it Tuesday and Thursday from 7 to 9.”

In the face of budget cuts, the military tends to return to its core education, Bucci said, cutting innovative programs that go beyond the essentials.

“(The military) drop anything that is vaguely considered ‘out there’,” Bucci said.

Some experts argue returning the focus to a core military education could be beneficial, and the leadership should be careful to not make too many core program cuts.

“Part of what’s going on is good: narrowing the focus on education and getting back to the basics,” said retired Lt. Gen. David Barno, co-director of the Responsible Defense Program at the Center for a New American Security. “There’s a good argument that this is a time to preserve the educational funding…but you also have to think about anything that’s not teaching. I think you have to be careful to not cut that all away. You don’t want to slash entire research.”

Faculty at the schools could be hit, not only in terms of reductions in staff but losing funding for continuing education to ensure their expertise remains current in their field.

Watson said it is more difficult to hire faculty, and there are more vacancies in courses

There also is more oversight for decision-making, which is good, she said, and sometimes the bureaucracy slows down productivity.

It is more difficult to attend educational conferences because it can be expensive and there are more steps involved to process the request to attend, she said.

“It’s hard for us to get out into the conferences in those things to remain current in our field because we have additional layers of oversight additional people who are required to look at each request,” Watson said. “There are instances when requests are turned down because it is perceived that we aren’t doing things as necessary as we think they are to us.”

Some military leaders have worked to bring back programs that were originally eliminated due to tightened budgets. For instance, the military tuition assistance programs were originally eliminated, but then brought back in 2013.

Retired Maj. Gen. Andrew Davis, president of the Reserve Officers Association, said his organization successfully helped restore the Reserve Components National Security Course, a two-week resident program for joint strategic thinking and leadership. The program was canceled in the first round of sequester cuts in the spring of 2012.

Barno added military leadership education should be “one of the last places to make cuts.”