Changes slated for Army's tuition assistance program
Watertown Daily Times, N.Y.
Changes to the military’s tuition assistance program are expected to limit the number of college courses that active-duty students can take during the year.
The Army’s tuition assistance is a program that provides financial assistance for voluntary off-duty education programs for soldiers.
The new policy, scheduled to go into effect Jan. 1, will cap the number of semester hours that the tuition assistance benefit will fund and will enforce tighter eligibility rules. Soldiers who meet Army requirements and have no adverse flags will be allowed to have up to 16 semester hours per fiscal year eligible for the benefit. Army spokesman Troy Rolan said qualified soldiers are eligible to receive tuition assistance for up to 130 credit hours.
“For schools like Jefferson Community College, it shouldn’t affect the classes students can take,” Mr. Rolan said. “As long as students complete the 60 credit hours needed for an associate’s degree they’ll still have 70 credit hours left of TA to use to get their bachelor’s degree.”
Unlike National Guard or Reserve soldiers who serve part time, Fort Drum soldiers who attend college study part time. More than 262 active-duty soldiers were enrolled in more than 1,400 credit hours for the JCC fall semester, according to Pamela J. Dixon, public relations technology specialist.
Jill M. Pippin, JCC dean of continuing education, said, “Most of our active-duty students only take classes part time and might only take two classes a semester. A place they could run into problems is if a student takes two classes at nine credits a semester, they won’t be able to take the same level classes the second semester.”
Another change would require soldiers to complete one year of service following their initial training before they can use tuition assistance. For a post-baccalaureate degree, tuition assistance will be available only for soldiers who have completed 10 years of military service. Ms. Pippin said that if a soldier earned a bachelor’s degree without using assistance, he would not have to wait 10 years to use it for a post-baccalaureate degree.
The tuition assistance benefit pays up to $250 per credit hour, with an annual cap of $4,500. JCC tuition ranges from $160 per credit hour for local residents to $243 per credit hour for students outside JCC’s service area.
Brig. Gen. David K. Mac-Ewen, adjutant general of the Army Human Resources Command, said in a news release Thursday that the program “had gotten a little off track from its original intent, which was to provide for soldiers a part-time, off-duty way to continue their education. So we capped it. We wanted young soldiers to understand the Army and ensure they’re in good standing before starting TA, so the one-year wait after initial entry training will be implemented Jan. 1.”
Gen. MacEwen added that if tuition assistance paid for a four-year degree and a soldier wants a post-baccalaureate degree, tuition assistance could be used as a retention tool.
This policy affects all soldiers in the active and Reserve components. In the release, Dr. Pamela L. Raymer, director of the Army Continuing Education System, forecast the number of soldiers affected as follows:
Those who would have used tuition assistance with less than one year’s service after initial training: 4,030 active, 3,017 Army National Guard and 1,216 Army Reserve. Soldiers who normally would have taken more than 16 semester hours per year: 20,271 active, 6,206 Guard and 12,007 Reserve. Soldiers with less than 10 years’ service pursuing post-baccalaureate degrees: 1,315 active, 220 Guard and 367 Reserve.
The tuition assistance program already put certain limits on the types of degrees it would cover.
“It was always capped to say you couldn’t take a second degree; if you had a bachelor’s degree you couldn’t get TA for a second bachelor’s degree,” Ms. Pippin said. “But we could see changes here with the number of credit hours they can take. Our military students are not going to be a full-time student. A lot of times they take one or two classes a semester. If they take two classes or up to nine credit hours, they can’t take the same number of credits the next semester. It’s going to potentially decrease the funding,” Ms. Pippin said.
Though the deadline of Jan. 1 has been set, Ms. Pippin said she is prepared for any changes that might be made.
“You don’t know how it’s going to turn out. They’ve only just put the policy out. Who knows what it will look like by Jan. 1?” she said.
The cap of 130 semester hours for a baccalaureate degree and 39 semester hours for a master’s degree remains in effect.
Mr. Rolan said once the 130 credit hours are used, soldiers have other options than paying out of pocket.
“There are a lot of options they can pursue once they have taken 130 credits. They can use the GI Bill education benefits if they are a veteran and then if they still want to pursue a higher degree, they can wait and at 10 years they can get TA for another degree,” Mr. Rolan said.
According to the release, during the 2013 fiscal year, active-duty soldiers took an average of 2.71 courses, Guard soldiers took an average of 3.58 courses and Reserve soldiers took an average of 3.40 courses.
Outside of college education, soldiers may continue using tuition assistance for non-degree language courses or a post-secondary certificate or diploma such as welding or computer certification.