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February 3, 2014 at 10:03am

New Army Tuition Assistance program rules

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New year, new rules. The Army's Tuition Assistance (TA) program will be streamlining eligibility and making some cutbacks in 2014 and nearly 160,000 officers and enlisted soldiers across active duty, reserves and National Guard who have been pursuing college degrees with TA support could be affected.

Although the TA program paid out $335 million for courses in 2013, that was a $38 million savings over the previous year. Yet in 2013, the TA program did fund the completion of 8,525 degrees for active duty soldiers, 1,359 for National Guard citizen soldiers and 1,469 for Army reservists.

However, the rule changes stem from a program review, conducted by Human Resources Command and Army senior leaders in 2013, and not from Department of Defense budget cutbacks.  

Under the new rules, soldiers will be limited to 16 semester hours of TA-funded studies during a fiscal year. They will also not be allowed to use TA until one year after completion of initial entry training, to include Basic Officer Leadership Course, Officer Candidate School or Advanced Individual Training. Furthermore, soldiers will not be permitted to use TA for any advanced degrees (post-bachelor's) until they have completed at least a decade of service; the exception is for soldiers who entered the Army with a bachelor's degree who will then be allowed to begin graduate studies one year after the completion of initial entry training.

For those who still qualify under these guidelines, TA will continue to fund up to $4500 annually for each soldier, with a payment limitation of $250 per semester hour.

According to education officials on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, however, universities will continue to work from the information on the table from the last budget that was frozen in September 2013.  

"We believe the cap is $4500 for their fiscal year, however, it is to be used with "individual" oversight. Advisors are encouraging military students to contact their military education counselors and/or military education portal, such as GoArmyEd, Air Force Education Counselors, and Navy regarding their tuition benefit, much like we encourage people wanting to use their Veteran Education Benefits, to seek information through the VA home web page or Veteran administration office," explained Mary Ann Bardoni-Barbe, JBLM campus director for Brandman University.

TA can still be used to pay for 130 semester hours of study toward completion of a bachelor's degree, and 39 hours for a master's degree. Also, all courses must be taken through an accredited institution as part of an approved degree plan.

Moving forward, an existing policy will also be closely enforced; soldiers will have to be in compliance with physical fitness and weight control standards, and not be under a flag for adverse personnel action, in order to receive TA.

In light of these stricter regulations, coupled with the Army's projected downsizing, it is estimated that the TA program will continue to shrink. However, for soldiers still serving and determined to achieve their educational goals, there are ways to make it work.

"Soldiers can use their active education benefit entitlement first.  The key is long-term financial planning and knowing what else is available for funding education," recommended Bardoni-Barbe.  "Federal loans or grants and veteran benefits scholarships can be used to backfill education costs once they use their allotment of tuition money."

For more on the 2014 TA program changes, click here.

Filed under: Army, Schools, Benefits,
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