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Tuition aid changes: Failing students must reimburse DOD; fees no longer covered

The military has a variety of financial assistance programs to help fund servicemembers' educational pursuits.

WASHINGTON — If servicemembers in the military’s tuition assistance program don’t successfully complete their courses, they will be required to repay the cost once new Defense Department policies go into effect. The program will also no longer cover any fees except tuition.

According to a DOD memorandum dated July 7, troops will have to reimburse TA if they fail to get a “C” grade or higher in an undergraduate course or a “B” grade or higher in a graduate-level course, or if they fail pass/fail courses.

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There are also minimums for cumulative grade point averages: 2.0 after 15 semester hours (or the equivalent) in undergraduate studies, and 3.0 after six semester hours (or the equivalent) in graduate studies.

In an emailed statement to Stars and Stripes, DOD spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen said the stricter minimum grade requirements for troops using TA funds is “part of an overarching strategy to improve military student success.

“Tuition dollars and military student time is both limited and valuable, so we want them to maintain focus, and understanding expectation is critical,” he said.

Under the new rules, the TA program will now cover only tuition as submitted by the educational institution. Participating troops are responsible for out-of-pocket payment for “any charge not directly related to course instruction,” including:

  • Room and board
  • Equipment and supplies
  • Textbooks, reference or instructional materials, e-books, CDs and DVDs
  • Parking and transportation
  • Admissions and registration fees
  • Fines

“The removal of fees (from TA program coverage) directly supports the President’s Executive Order requirement to provide meaningful information to students about the financial cost … at an institution so military students can make informed decisions on where to attend school,” Christensen said.

The reductions in fee coverage come at a time when DOD is facing budget constraints. It is unclear exactly how much money DOD will save by instituting the new rules, which apply to courses that begin Sept. 5 or later.

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Some servicemembers could be exempted from the new grade requirements, depending on their circumstances.

“Military students are not traditional nor are they full-time students given their military duties and responsibilities. Therefore, on a case-by-case basis, waivers to the Department’s policy may be authorized for service members … with extenuating circumstances, such as deployments, changed duty schedules and other circumstances outside their control,” Christensen said.

The TA program is a voluntary benefit program that servicemembers can use to continue their education after they join the military. It pays up to 100 percent of tuition costs for eligible troops who enroll at approved institutions.

Each service manages its own TA program, but the programs generally provide up to $250 per semester credit hour for troops pursuing associate’s, bachelor’s or master’s degrees. They also pay tuition for classes that servicemembers take in pursuit of a high school diploma or GED.

In fiscal 2013, about 278,000 servicemembers were enrolled in post-secondary courses, earning nearly 54,000 college degrees and more than 1,900 certifications and licenses, according to DOD.

harper.jon@stripes.com
Twitter: @JHarperStripes

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