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Changes coming for Tuition Assistance

Eligibility rules may be tightened

Aug. 13, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
U.S. Army officers of the Command and General Staff College, class 13-002, at Fort Gordon, Ga., have knowledge at their fingertips with the course Blackboard thanks to a new software program and .com address that may be accessed using their personally owned mobile devices. Maj. Elizabeth Popiak, cyber security division chief at the cyber leader college at Fort Gordon, Ga., uses the Blackboard calendar on her computer laptop, April 5, 2013. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Kelly Jo Bridgwater)
U.S. Army officers of the Command and General Staff College, class 13-002, at Fort Gordon, Ga., have knowledge at their fingertips with the course Blackboard thanks to a new software program and .com address that may be accessed using their personally owned mobile devices. Maj. Elizabeth Popiak, cyber security division chief at the cyber leader college at Fort Gordon, Ga., uses the Blackboard calendar on her computer laptop, April 5, 2013. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Kelly Jo Bridgwater) (Sgt.1st Class Kelly Jo Bridgwater)
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Soldiers should expect changes to the Army’s Tuition Assistance program eligibility rules during the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

“I think we are going to have changes in tuition assistance,” said Sgt. Major of the Army Raymond Chandler during an Aug. 7 interview at the Pentagon.

While it’s unlikely that the popular tuition assistance program will be abruptly shutdown as it was in March,Chandler noted that the Army has the broadest tuition assistance program of any of the services right now, and “it’s expensive, and I believe there are some refinements we can make within that program.”

But Chandler thinks eligibility for the program could be tied to time in service and perhaps rank.

During fiscal 2012, the Army spent $373 million on tuition assistance payments to more than 200,000 soldiers of the active and reserve components. Under the TA payments formula, payments are capped at $250 per semester-hour of instruction, up to an annual total of $4,500.

“I know that we value civilian education, because it allows our soldiers to look beyond the military solution.

“If you limit yourself to military learning, then you are only going to see things with a military perspective,” Chandler said. “For example, if you take a class on organizational leadership, you are going to see a different perspective from the business world.

“That provides a synergy that is good for the Army,” he said.

However, Chandler said he does have a problem with some of the Army’s tuition assistance policies.

“For example, soldiers today can enroll in tuition assistance the moment they get to their first unit of assignment. I think that creates a tension there among young men and women who have just graduated from advanced individual training and who have a very, very limited knowledge of what their MOS truly is, and what is expected of them in their job.”

“These soldiers should be concentrating on their job first, because that is why they are in the Army,” he said.

“Is it feasible to establish a policy that does not allow soldiers to enroll in tuition assistance until they have completed one year of service at their first duty station?”

“I think that is reasonable,” Chandler said.

“Another area that creates tension is that we provide enough tuition assistance in the Army that a person technically can be a full-time student.

“With the $4,500 annual TA cap, we provide enough money for 18 hours of credits.”

“I think we ought to consider making civilian education a part-time activity.”

Chandler said shortly after TA was temporarily suspended in March, he received an email from a soldier who was upset with the fact that after five years in the Army, he was only two classes away from finishing his master’s degree, and that the Army had interrupted his plan.

“It’s commendable that he has been able to do this, but is this really something we should expect from our soldiers? What has this soldier been doing for the Army?”

“We’ll be supportive in helping soldiers meet their educational goals, but it’s tough for me to rationalize that a person who has been in the Army for five years has been able to attain not only a bachelor’s degree, but is only two classes away from a master’s degree.”

“I think we may want to look at tying tuition assistance to certain benchmarks for rank,” Chandler said.

“I also think we probably will have a coherent policy on this by the beginning of the new fiscal year (on Oct. 1),” he said.

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