College pays for classes of Fort Drum soldiers affected by tuition assistance cuts

By GORDON BLOCK | Watertown (N.Y.) Daily Times | Published: October 18, 2013

FORT DRUM — It was day one of the late fall session for Jefferson Community College students on post, and 132 military students were enrolled in person and online despite issues with the Army’s tuition assistance program.

The school has offered to pay thousands of dollars in tuition for the soldier-students who signed up for the session’s courses before the start of the government shutdown Oct. 1.

The value of the school’s offer is $64,883, with 132 students taking 403 credits, each valued at $161.

The tuition program was halted at the start of the government shutdown, and even though the shutdown ended Wednesday night, the program was not immediately reinstated.

The school’s offer was to go into effect if the Army had not processed the benefit by midnight Thursday, at which point it was projected the soldiers’ applications would be dropped.

Donald R. Johnson, JCC’s director of military programs, said the school’s offer stemmed from its close relationship with post, and the care faculty and staff have for their military students.

“It’s one thing to say it, it’s another thing to live it,” he said. “This is an example of folks at our college living it.”

The school’s tuition offer left students with a fee of $1 per credit hour. However, Mr. Johnson said, a group of faculty and staff members anonymously chipped in to pay the fee, leaving soldier-students having to pay only the cost of their textbooks.

The Army’s tuition assistance program, for which all soldiers are eligible, including Army Reserve and Army National Guard members, pays up to $250 per credit hour, with an annual limit of $4,500.

Multiple 10th Mountain Division soldier-students on post expressed gratitude for the school’s offer Thursday afternoon, before the start of their first three-hour courses of the condensed eight-week session.

Outside of his geology 102 course, Staff Sgt. Travis M. Branson said that he had been keeping a keen eye on news of the program since the shutdown began, and that he pursued a Pell grant in case the Army’s aid wasn’t available. A water treatment specialist with the 277th Aviation Support Battalion, 10th Combat Aviation Brigade, Sgt. Branson said the chance to take college courses means a lot to him and he appreciates the school’s offer.

“That means somebody cares about our education as much as we do,” Sgt. Branson said.

Spc. Chad M. Young, an intelligence analyst with the 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, said he was close to dropping his sociology course before receiving notification of the school’s offer.

“I was really thrilled,” he said.

Sgt. Christopher A. Love, of the 3rd Squadron, 71st Cavalry Regiment, said he was excited to take math 155, a prerequisite for his allied health major. If the class was not available to him Thursday, he said, it would not have been offered again until next fall.

“I was sweating pins and needles hoping it would come,” Sgt. Love said.


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