The Department of Defense (DoD) is scrambling to find ways to cut budgets and save money. And each branch within the DoD is scrambling to do the same thing. The DoD as a whole is tasked with cutting over $50 billion a year from budgets due to the sequestration requirements. Within this larger goal, each branch is being asked to do its part.
Most branches have made cuts to operations, training, maintenance, and other mission goals. The Coast Guard is taking it a step further and reducing benefits to their troops by reducing their Tuition Assistance Benefits from 100% of tuition, to a 75% / 25% split between the Coast Guard and the student. If this sounds familiar, it’s because it is. The Coast Guard has reinstated the “Cost-sharing” Tuition Assistance program that was in place military-wide prior to 2002, when the military began offering a 100% Tuition Assistance program, up to a cap per semester hour, and an annual limit per student.
2014 Coast Guard Tuition Assistance Benefits Cut
The following rates are effective immediately, and are in place from October 1, 2013, through September 30, 2014. The rates after that will depend on the approved Coast Guard budget.
2014 Tuition Assistance Rates: Effective immediately, the Coast Guard will fund 75% of the tuition cost of members not to exceed $187.50 per credit hour, for active duty military members eligible for Tuition Assistance. The new annual cap for the Coast Guards share of TA is $2,250 (75% of $3,000). Coast Guard members are responsible for any tuition above the $187.50 per credit hour limit.
Coast Guard Tuition Assistance Eligibility
- Member must be on Active Duty or a Reservist on long-term orders greater than 180 days,
- Members are limited to six credit hours per fiscal quarter. Credit hours are counted from course start dates.
- Members must meet the additional following criteria: (1) Satisfactory progress toward completion of unit qualifications, (2) Satisfactory progress toward watch station qualifications, (3) Satisfactory proficiency of craft, and (4) Satisfactory conduct during the six months prior.
Eligible Study Programs: Tuition Assistance is only available for Coast Guardsmen seeking their first degree at the Associate and Bachelor levels. TA will not be granted for coursework at the same level or lower than a degree already possessed by the student. In other words, you can use TA to achieve an Associates or Bachelors Degree if you do not already have a degree at that level, but you can’t use TA to achieve a second degree at the same level.
Tuition Assistance is not available for those seeking a Masters Degree. Several other services have exceptions for these rules for certain mission essential training, but I couldn’t find any exceptions on the Coast Guard site. You will need to contact your Education Service Officer for more information about the possibility of exceptions.
Who is not eligible for Tuition Assistance benefits: According to the All Hands Blog, the official Coast Guard Workforce site, “Tuition assistance benefits will not be extended to civilian employees, Coast Guard Reservists in a drilling status and those active duty Coast Guardsmen pursuing a graduate degree or another degree at the same level which they already possess. Additionally, tuition assistance will not be available to active duty members who do not demonstrate satisfactory progress toward watch station qualifications, sufficient proficiency of craft and good conduct.”
Here is the new Coast Guard Tuition Assistance Policy.
Reasons for These Tuition Assistance Changes
The primary reason for the changes is the budget. Each branch of service has been tasked with doing more with less. This means reallocating dollars where leadership sees the greatest impact. Limiting the TA benefits to Associates and Bachelors level courses means that most of the Tuition Assistance benefits will go to junior and senior enlisted members, which is where the Coast Guard sees the greatest potential for long term impact.
According to the All Hands Blog, “Coast Guard leaders believe junior enlisted members have the most potential for growth, the longest potential time horizon and the least financial resources. The cost-share program helps these members be competitive for officer selection programs and contributes to their success as senior enlisted members by supporting them in obtaining an undergraduate degree.”
Alternative Funding Sources for Coast Guard Members
A reduction in Tuition Assistance benefits doesn’t mean Coast Guardsmen won’t be able to achieve their educational goals. It just means they need to be a little more creative when planning their course work. For example, Coast Guardsmen are still eligible to take CLEP and DANTES courses. These credit by examination courses are free and offer college credit upon passing. These exams played a large role when I achieved my degree while on active duty. Many institutions of higher education also offer credits for military service, potentially eliminating some required coursework en route to achieving a degree.