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Army suspends tuition assistance program for troops

Empty classrooms like this one on Kleber Kaserne, Germany, may be the new norm as the Army has suspended its tuition assistance program, citing fiscal challenges. The Army's announcement follows a similar message affecting the Marine Corps.

WIESBADEN, Germany — The Army announced Friday it is suspending its tuition assistance program for soldiers newly enrolling in classes due to sequestration and other budgetary pressures.

“This suspension is necessary given the significant budget execution challenges caused by the combined effects of a possible year-long continuing resolution and sequestration,” Paul Prince, an army personnel spokesman at the Pentagon, wrote in an email to Stars and Stripes. “The Army understands the impacts of this action and will re-evaluate should the budgetary situation improve.”

The Army’s announcement follows a similar move by the Marine Corps.

The Army’s tuition assistance program was available for troops to complete a high school diploma, certificate program or college or master’s degree. Under the program, the Army paid 100 percent of the tuition and authorized fees charged by a school up to established limits of $250 per semester hour or credit hour or up to $4,500 per fiscal year.

“The Secretary of the Army has approved the suspension of Tuition Assistance effective 5 p.m. (Eastern Time) on March 8, 2013. Soldiers will no longer be permitted to submit new requests for Tuition Assistance,” read a statement posted Friday on the GoArmyEd.com website. “However, Soldiers currently enrolled in courses approved for Tuition Assistance are not affected, and will be allowed to complete current course enrollment(s).

“This change in the Army Tuition Assistance program applies to all Soldiers, including the Army National Guard and Army Reserves,” the statement read.

Student Veterans of America on Friday blasted the decision, saying the move could hurt troops’ post military careers and leave them in debt.

"It is utterly unacceptable that the first casualties of Congress' inability to act are education benefits for servicemembers,” Michael Dakduk, executive director of SVA, said in a statement. “The decisions of the U.S. Marine Corps and the U.S. Army set a dangerous precedent that educating our nation's servicemembers and veterans is an expendable option.”

Prior to the official announcement, messages about the suspension were circulating on various Facebook pages and on University of Maryland University College Europe’s webpage.

Frustrations were evident on GoArmyEd’s Facebook page on Friday.

“Wouldn’t one think that GoArmyEd would have sent a mass e-mail to everyone enrolled instead of a few people here and there? I haven’t gotten anything from my chain of command, GoArmyEd, or my school!,” read one post.

Others expressed concern about remaining college requirements or how the suspension will affect the enlisted promotion system, where civilian education is valued and rewarded.

Sgt. 1st Class Vido Barina with the 66th Military Intelligence Brigade in Wiesbaden, Germany, said taking away tuition assistance is the wrong move.

“Every commercial, every brochure, has money for college written all over it … recruiting us into the Army and then taking away one of the main reasons we joined is a bit hypocritical,” said Barina, who added that as an 11-year Army veteran, it’s his junior troops he is concerned about. “There are so many things that cost a lot of money and don’t need to take place that are not getting the ax.”

Although tuition assistance is being suspended, soldiers can continue to access their GI Bill benefits or use other funding sources, such as grants and scholarships or state tuition assistance for Army National Guard soldiers.

Sgt. Daniel Phillips, with the 66th MI Brigade, said he was hoping to save the GI Bill to pass on to his kids, adding that paying for classes out of his own pocket isn’t a realistic option.

“(Tuition Assistance) is something I’ve been utilizing my whole Army career to help me stand out from my peers and benefit my family,” Phillips said. “I had a degree plan set up and this is going to be a huge setback.”

Prince advised that soldiers contact their local education centers with questions and to get updates. Army officials say that updated information will also be posted to www.goarmyed.com.

patton.mark@stripes.com
 

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