Air Force spouses could see tuition assistance cuts
By JENNIFER H. SVAN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 8, 2012
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — Hundreds of Air Force spouses overseas receiving Air Force Aid Society tuition assistance could soon be feeling the pinch of Air Force budget cuts.
The aid society is ending its Spouse Tuition Assistance Program on July 31 due to Air Force reductions in funding and staffing at base education centers, where the STAP scholarship program is administered, according to an aid society official.
When staffing for the Air Force’s voluntary education program was reduced, “that started the dominoes falling,” said Linda Egentowich, Air Force Aid Society chief operating officer and a retired U.S. Air Force colonel. “We realized we didn’t have a person in the education office to administer the STAP program.”
In 2011, the society — a private, nonprofit organization serving as the Air Force’s official charity — awarded about $275,000 in STAP scholarships to 623 spouses in the Pacific and in Europe, according to Egentowich.
In an effort to maintain some support for spouses at overseas locations, Egentowich said the society is expanding eligibility requirements for its General Henry H. Arnold Education Grant Program, making it available for the first time to spouses at overseas bases.
Funding for the STAP scholarships will be moved to the more robust Arnold grant program, Egentowich said. In 2011, the society awarded 3,000 grants totaling about $6 million.
Applications for the Arnold grant are submitted online and administered by staff at aid society headquarters in the States, in cooperation with a private scholarship service.
Previously, only Air Force spouses at bases in the 48 contiguous states and dependent children of Air Force members at bases worldwide were eligible to apply for the Arnold grant; spouses overseas, including those in Alaska and Hawaii, had the STAP, Egentowich said.
The change will reduce the number of spouses supported, since only full-time undergraduates are eligible to apply for the Arnold grant and need for the grant must be demonstrated, according to Egentowich. Spouses under STAP could be full- or part-time, graduate or undergraduate students, and the scholarships were not based on financial need.
But for those who do qualify, the Arnold grant has some distinct advantages over STAP, Egentowich said. It has an annual limit of $2,000 versus $1,500 for STAP, and it can be used for enrollment in any accredited school approved by the U.S. Department of Education for participation in federal aid programs.
With STAP, spouses could use the scholarship money only toward courses offered by contracted institutions — such as the University of Phoenix and the University of Maryland — offering on-base programs.
Egentowich said the society has already contacted spouses currently in STAP to inform them of the change.
“We realize this is causing turmoil and concerns,” she said. But “instead of taking it all away, we’re doing our best to offer something else.”
Tatineesha Harris, an Air Force Aid Society officer at Ramstein Air Base, urges spouses “not to be worried” if they’re in need of tuition assistance.
“This is a great, great program that the Air Force Aid Society has allowed our spouses to take advantage of,” she said. “They still have time to apply for it.”
In 2011, Ramstein received nearly $30,000 in STAP funding, base officials said.
For spouses overseas, the society extended the Arnold grant application deadline for the upcoming academic year from March 9 to March 30. The online application is available at the society’s website, www.afas.org; click on Education Programs.
Egentowich said the society is looking at ways to bring back STAP in the future. One possible solution is developing an automated software system that would allow the organization to manage the program from its headquarters, she said.