The Texas National Guard has sent letters to soldiers attending University of Texas campuses in Austin and Arlington, warning them that a conflict over military tuition assistance could cause them to lose thousands of dollars in aid and perhaps force them to change schools.
"If no solution is reached, neither school will be eligible to receive Federal Tuition Assistance in the future," states the letter, which was sent Thursday by the National Guard's Texas Education Services Office. "This may influence your school choice if funding is an issue. ... Be cognizant that there is no guarantee that a solution will be reached and you may end up self funding your tuition assistance."
Unlike the GI Bill, which provides money for veterans, the Department of Defense's tuition assistance program provides up to $4,500 a year in college funding assistance for active duty service members. The conflict centers on how schools bill their students: The Defense Department says it will no longer approve the tuition assistance for schools that bundle their tuition into a single flat rate, as UT's Austin and Arlington campuses do.
Instead, the U.S. Army wants universities to itemize fees so Army officials can approve tuition assistance on a course-by-course basis and ensure that the federal money is not used on prohibited expenses, such as books and computers.
The University of Texas System is negotiating with the Army in hopes of avoiding a situation where student soldiers are forced to leave. According to UT-Austin, 31 guardsmen currently are enrolled in the school, though not all receive the federal tuition assistance. According to the Texas National Guard, 46 students statewide are affected, including 24 in Austin.
"We are working with our attorneys, the University of Texas System and Department of Defense to resolve this issue," UT spokesman Gary Susswein said. "Our goal is that no student-veteran or active-duty service member has his or her funding cut off while studying at UT."
The Texas National Guard Education Services Office told students it hopes to reach a compromise with UT schools by the end of June.
For Justin Scaffa, 29, a Texas National Guardsman since 2007 who is one semester away from graduating from UT-Austin's School of Nursing, the dispute could have major ramifications. Scaffa said changing schools is not an option, because nursing schools are different at various universities. And he doesn't have the money to absorb the loss of thousands of dollars in assistance.
"I'm kind of up a creek without those funds," said Scaffa, who hopes to be commissioned as an officer after graduating. "It's extremely frustrating. ... I wish they would come up with a solution instead of scaring the heck out of someone."
Last year, the Defense Department unveiled a Memorandum of Understanding that it requires schools to sign before they can collect the tuition assistance from their military students.
The memorandum was sparked by concerns that the military did not have adequate oversight over the nearly $600 million a year the military was paying colleges and universitiesparticularly for-profit, online institutions, which have been increasingly recruiting military students.
But some of the recommendations developed by a Defense Department task force, including more generous credit transfer procedures and less strict residency requirements for in-state tuition, have rankled traditional nonprofit universities. After complaints from schools that the memorandum denied them control over internal policies, the Defense Department revised and softened some requirements.
According to the Defense Department, numerous Texas universities and colleges have signed the memorandum, including Texas AandM, Austin Community College and other branches of the UT System.
Distributed by MCT Information Services