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Congress established the senior and master chief petty officer ranks in 1958, primarily as an incentive to retain E-7's beyond their 20-year mark. This move enjoyed some initial success. Although the chief petty officer has always held a well-defined position of responsibility in the chain of command, the roles of the senior and master chief petty officers have been the subject of considerable debate almost since their beginning days. It became apparent that senior and master chief petty officers received little additional responsibilities than what they had as chief petty officers. This resulted in a return of the old trend where many senior enlisted members left the Navy shortly after completing 20 years of service.

In 1979, the Chief of Naval Operations took concrete steps to end that debate and stated that the Navy would expand the role of the senior and master chief petty officers. Their roles would no longer be that of senior technicians instead, their role would be that of mid-level management. As a result, of the CNO's policy, commands throughout the Navy appointed many senior and master chief petty officers to positions of greater responsibility. While some performed well in their expanded roles, others lacked the education and training needed to carry out their new managerial duties. To assist senior and master chief petty officers' transition from technicians to positions of middle managers, the Navy founded the Senior Enlisted Academy.

Opening ceremonies held on September 14, 1981, marked the beginning of an educational program, which is unique among the Navy's many training schools and programs. On that day, the Navy's Senior Enlisted Academy opened its doors to its first class. This pilot class, consisting of 16 students, received and validated the nine-week curriculum containing a diverse mix of subjects such as communications skills, national security affairs, Navy programs, and physical readiness training. The Senior Enlisted Academy began conducting its classes in facilities at the Center for War Gaming, Naval War College in Newport, RI in 1981. In August 1989, the Academy moved to its new facilities in Tomich Hall. This building contains the classrooms, office spaces, and berthing for 61 students. Tomich Hall pays tribute to Chief Watertender Peter Tomich who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions on the USS Utah (AG-16), 7 December 1941, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. During the Japanese attack, the USS Utah sustained major damage. Realizing the inevitable fate of the ship, Chief Tomich returned to his post in the boiler room to evacuate his fireroom personnel and shut down the boilers before the Utah sank. His efforts resulted in the saving of many lives in his fireroom crew and throughout the ship. His gallant actions were in keeping with the precepts upon which the Senior Enlisted Academy has been built: " Leadership by Example.

In 1995, the Chief of Naval Operations established the requirement that all prospective Command Master Chiefs and Chiefs of the Boat successfully complete this course prior to reporting for their first assignment.
Starting January 2005, the SEA seated 65 students per class and convened for 6 weeks. The SEA further expanded to the Perry Hall Annex in 2006, increasing the student capacity to 112 per resident class.

The Senior Enlisted Academy offers resident and non-resident/blended classes. The resident class is 6 weeks long. The blended course is set in a Blackboard environment for Six (6) weeks concluding with a two (2) week resident requirement. There have been 163 resident and 43 non-resident classes as of October 2011.

History of the Chief Petty Officer