The Army recently updated their Tuition Assistance (TA) program with a focus on ensuring their Soldiers are more focused on military readiness and training as opposed to spending more time on college classes. Soldiers will still have the opportunity to use Tuition Assistance to achieve their educational goals, however, Soldiers must first meet more stringent criteria to be eligible to participate in the TA program. The most recent updates to the Army Tuition Assistance Benefits program were released in August 2014, and apply to FY 2014.
While not everyone will be happy with these changes, the Army was compelled to make these changes to meet readiness goals and to help stretch the ever shrinking budget. Let’s dive in and take a look at what the Army TA program offers, who is eligible, which educational programs are covered, and how to take advantage of this valuable benefit.
FY 2015 Army Tuition Assistance Benefits Updates
The following rates are effective immediately, and are in place from October 1, 2014, through September 30, 2015. (There were no changes to the rates from FY 2014).
2015 Tuition Assistance Rates: Effective January 1, 2014, the Army will fund 100% of the tuition for up to 16 hours of credit, not to exceed $250 per credit hour (for a total of up to $4,000 per fiscal year). This replaces the previous limit of 18 semester hours of credit with a cap of $4,500 per fiscal year (FY 2013 rates).
Starting October 1, 2014, the Army will no longer pay certain fees, including laboratory and course fees. This is in accordance with Department of Defense Instruction 1322.25 (PDF).
Army Tuition Assistance Eligibility
Perhaps the biggest change to the Army Tuition Assistance program pertains to eligibility requirements. The following is applicable to all Soldiers, regardless of component, who apply for Tuition Assistance.
Army Tuition Assistance Benefits Program Eligibility (source):
- Soldiers will be eligible for TA upon successfully completing one year of service following graduation from Advanced Individual Training (AIT).
- Soldiers can use TA for a second, higher level degree (post Bachelor’s) once they have 10 years of service, if any portion of the undergraduate degree was funded with TA. There is no 10 year requirement if TA did not fund any portion of undergraduate work. (Beginning January 1, 2015).
- Soldiers may take up to 16 semester hours (SH) per fiscal year at the rate of $250/SH each year.
- Soldiers can use TA for 130 SH for a bachelor’s degree and for 39 SH for a master’s degree.
- This level of funding permits soldiers to complete one degree at each level as part of an approved degree plan.
- As other fully funded programs are available for first professional degrees (PHD, MD, JD), TA is not designed for this purpose.
- To be eligible for TA, Soldiers must meet army physical fitness test (APFT) and height/weight standards and not have a DA adverse action flag.
- TA requests must be submitted and approved prior to the first class date, without exception.
- Beginning September 6, 2014, reimbursement will be required from the servicemember if a successful course completion is not obtained.
- The procedures will remain in effect until superseded or rescinded.
As you can see, the focus is on ensuring Army Soldiers first meet Army training standards before they can participate in Tuition Assistance benefits. There are a couple points worth highlighting:
Soldiers must complete one year of service after completing AIT. This doesn’t mean you have to complete AIT and have 1 year of service. You must serve one year after completing AIT. This ensures Soldiers are focused on upgrade training and proficiency before focusing on college.
The 10 year rule is also new, and worth noting. This doesn’t mean you have to wait 10 years after completing your Bachelor’s Degree before the Army will help pay for your Master’s Degree. This simply means you need to reach the 10 year mark in service. This is when the Army considers Soldiers as Career Soldiers. The Army knows they will get a better return on their investment with this rule. This also may not affect many soldiers who started their college courses later in their careers. (No word if there will be exceptions to this rule for prior-enlisted officers who used TA to achieve their Bachelors and receive a commission).
Eligible Study Programs: Tuition Assistance is available programs offered by accredited schools that are registered with GoArmyEd. Professional degrees such as a PHD, MD, or JD were listed as ineligible for the Army Tuition Assistance program. However, these degrees are required for hard to fill billets, and are almost always in high-demand. There are special programs to help Soldiers achieve these degrees. See your Education and Training Office for more information regarding eligible study programs and schools.
Why the Army Changed The Tuition Assistance Program
Budgets are being crunched from all directions, and each branch of the service has been tasked with doing more with less. The Army TA program was briefly halted last year due to the automatic spending cuts that were part of the Sequestration. After the programs were reinstated, each branch took a long look at how they could reduce the budget while still offering their troops education benefits. Each branch altered their TA program to some degree, with the Air Force making many changes similar to the Army TA Program. The Coast Guard had the most drastic changes, in which they reduced the benefit to a 75% tuition payment with the member paying the remaining 25%. The Coast Guard also reduced the total number of credit hours per year.
Alternative Ways to Pay for College
Army Soldiers who aren’t eligible for the Tuition Assistance program still have options to continue their education while they are serving. For example, the DoD offers military members the opportunity to take credit by examination tests, including the CLEP and DANTES tests. Passing these test gives students college credits at a variety of colleges and universities. They can be a great way to reduce the amount of time needed to achieve a degree. I used these extensively while taking classes on active duty. Many colleges and universities also offer credits for military service.
Other ways to pay for college include using the Montgomery GI Bill, the Post-9/11 GI Bill, military scholarships, federal grants, grants and scholarships from schools, and other tuition assistance programs.
With a little planning, it may be possible to achieve a Bachelor’s Degree with little to no out of pocket expense, without using the Army TA program. This would allow enlisted members to complete a Bachelor’s Degree, then begin working on a post-bachelor’s degree without having to wait to reach the 10 year service mark.