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 June 2018, and are effective beginning August 5th, 2018.
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 2019 Army Tuition Assistance Benefits Updates
The following rates are effective immediately and are in place from August 2018, through September 30, 2019 (unless updated for the fall 2019 semester).
There were no changes to the Tuition Assistance rates or limits from FY 2018.
2019 Tuition Assistance Rates
The Department of Defense authorizes military branches to provide Tuition Assistance benefits of up to $250 per semester hour of credit, up to a maximum of $4,500 per year. However, each branch can specify their own standards within these limitations. The Army, for example, has a slightly less generous maximum benefit for each Soldier.
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).
What Does the Army Tuition Assistance Program Cover?
TA covers tuition only. TA will not pay for fees institutions levy, unless authorized by DoD Instruction 1322.25.
This means the Army will no longer pay certain fees, including laboratory and course fees. TA also does not cover certain administrative fees, books, and other fees.
Army Tuition Assistance Eligibility
Perhaps the biggest change to the Army Tuition Assistance program pertains to eligibility requirements. Prior to 2018, the Army base eligibility requirements on time in service.
Prior Rules: Soldiers were eligible for Tuition Assistance Benefits for a Bachelor’s Degree upon successfully completing one year of service following graduation from Advanced Individual Training (AIT). Soldiers were eligible to use TA for a Graduate Degree with the same service requirement, provided they did not use TA for their Bachelor’s Degree. If they did, they had to wait until they had 10 years of service before being eligible to use TA for a graduate degree.
New Army Tuition Assistance Eligibility Rules
The Army removed the Time in Service requirements for eligibility and replaced them with standards to ensure Soldiers have completed their required Professional Military Education (PME) before being eligible to use Tuition Assistance benefits.
This ensures Soldiers meet readiness goals before being eligible to take off-duty education courses.
The Army now places Soldiers into two eligibility tiers, Tier 1, and Tier 2.
Tier 1 Tuition Assistance Eligibility
- Tier 1 Soldiers – this applies to all Soldiers applying for Tuition Assistance who are either working on their first Bachelor’s Degree or who have obtained a Bachelor’s Degree without using TA and are pursuing a Master’s Degree.
- PME Requirements: Tier 1 eligibility also requires Soldiers to have completed their initial Professional Military Education (PME) requirements for their respective rank. This would include Advanced Individual Training (enlisted members), Warrant Officer Basic Course (Warrant Officers), or Basic Officer Leaders Course (Officers).
Tier 2 Tuition Assistance Eligibility
- Tier 2 Soldiers – this applies to Soldiers who used Tuition Assistance for a Bachelor’s Degree and are working toward a Master’s Degree or graduate certificate.
- PME Requirements: Tier 2 eligibility requires Soldiers to have completed more advanced Professional Military Education (PME) requirements for their respective rank. These include Advanced Leaders Course, Warrant Officer Advanced Course, or Captains Career Course.
The following is applicable to all Soldiers, regardless of component, who apply for Tuition Assistance.
Additional Army TA Eligibility Requirements
The following requirements apply to all Army Soldiers, in both Tier 1 and Teir 2.
To be eligible for TA benefits, Soldiers must:
- Soldiers can use TA for up to 130 SH for a bachelor’s degree and up to 39 SH for a master’s degree.
- The 39 semester hour limit applies to all credits taken after completion of a baccalaureate degree.
- Soldiers can’t use TA to pursue a second bachelor’s degree or doctoral degree, nor can they double up and request TA while they are on orders in a fully funded degree program.
- TA funds cannot be used for placement exams, competency tests, or evaluation for past experience.
- 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.
- Reimbursement will be required from the servicemember if a successful course completion is not obtained.
Time in Service and Additional Service Commitments
Any enlisted Soldier using TA must have enough time left in service to complete the courses they are signing up for.
By law, officers who use TA incur a service obligation.
- Active Duty officers incur an Active Duty Service Obligation (ADSO) of two years, and
- Reserve Component officers incur a Reserve Duty Service Obligation (RDSO) of four years.
- The ADSO/RDSO is calculated from the date of completion of the last course for which TA was used.
Eligible Study Programs
Tuition Assistance is available programs offered by accredited schools that are registered with GoArmyEd.
Professional degrees such as a Ph.D., 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 several years ago 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.