Services Stall On Renewing Tuition Assistance

The Army, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard have yet to re-start tuition assistance programs as they wrestle with implementing new spending rules ordered by Congress.

"We anticipate maybe by the end of next week," said Lt. Col. Tom Alexander, an Army personnel spokesman, said last Friday. "We're still awaiting guidance" from the Defense Department on how much money will be available, he said.

Spokesmen for the Air Force, the Marine Corps and the Coast Guard said they also were unable to predict a start-up time for the popular programs for continuing education that are currently used by more than 320,000 servicemembers to boost their military careers and prepare for civilian life.

The Navy did not suspend new enrollments when the other services did in early March, but the Navy's program could also be impacted by the directives from Congress on tuition assistance. Congress directed the services to limit the cuts to tuition assistance to in the continuing resolution that will fund the government through September.

Sens. James Inhofe, R-Okla., and Kay Hagan, D-N.C., sponsored the bipartisan amendment that was part of the continuing resolution that Congress passed on March 21 and President Obama signed on March 27.

The tuition assistance program provided for $250 per credit hour up to $4,500 annually before new enrollments were suspended in early March and current enrollees were told that they would not be eligible to sign up for future courses.

The services claimed they didn't know just how much money was available under the cost-cutting demands of the Congressional sequester process that will cut about $41 billion from the Defense Department this year.

In a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel last week, Inhofe and Hagan called on the Pentagon to speed up the process.

Inhofe and Hagan, both members of the Armed Services Committee, said "immediate action" was necessary to get the program started again. They called tuition assistance "an important recruiting and retention tool, which also significantly contributes to our servicemembers' morale."

"Over 60 percent of our servicemembers state that the increased ability to pursue higher education was an important factor in deciding to join the military," the two senators wrote.

In fiscal year 2012, tuition assistance paid for 870,000 classes for servicemembers leading to 50,500 degrees, diplomas or certificates, Inhofe and Hagan said. The "impressive" results included 33,300 two-year degrees, 9,600 four-year degrees, 5,800 master's degrees and 1,800 certificates or licenses, the letter to Hagel said.

But the services have yet to translate the language of the Inhofe-Hagan amendment into action in spite the pressure applied by the lawmakers.


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