When the services suddenly announced they were pulling way back on tuition assistance for all troops, tens of thousands were left wondering how they would fulfill their educational ambitions — or even whether they could complete the current semester.
No other sequester cut has so directly affected so many troops. TA spending has nearly tripled over the past decade, reaching $562 million in 2011.
Clearly, that’s not sustainable.
But simply shutting off the spigot without warning is shamefully unfair. The issue now is how to turn TA back on again so it is fairly administered across the services.
Congress is unlikely to carve out an exemption as it demands cuts to virtually every other program across the government. Realistically, then, the military services must solve the TA problem.
Any solution must address:
Equity. The maximum reimbursement must be equal across the services, regardless of age or rank.
Skin in the game. student warriors should have to refund TA when they fail to complete courses. This will ensure a higher course completion rate.
Consistency. The services cannot be allowed to turn TA on and off based on available funding from month to month. Pursuing a degree requires sustained commitment, and once the service starts paying, that commitment is shared.
Limits. Limit the amount per credit, or the number of credits, the services will cover per year or per member. The limit must be consistent across the services. service members are eligible for the GI Bill, and can tap that benefit to cover what TA doesn’t.
Saving tuition assistance should be a priority. Changing it will be the best way to ensure it survives.