The Army announced Friday the suspension of its tuition assistance program, which helps active-duty soldiers pay for college courses and other education opportunities.
Soldiers will no longer be permitted to submit new requests for tuition assistance, according to an Army statement. The suspension applies to active-duty soldiers in all components of the Army, including the Army Reserve and National Guard. Soldiers enrolled in approved tuition assistance courses will be allowed to complete current course enrollment.
At Fort Hood, more than 11,700 soldiers participate in the program at a cost of $4.8 million a year, according to the post’s public affairs office. Suspending the program is one of the military’s attempts to cope with steep automatic budget cuts, or sequestration, which began March 1. The Marine Corps suspended its tuition assistance program earlier this week.
“This suspension is necessary given the significant budget execution challenges caused by the combined effects of a possible year-long continuing resolution and sequestration,” according to the statement. “The Army understands the impacts of this action and will re-evaluate should the budgetary situation improve.”
Army-wide, $373 million was provided to more than 201,000 soldiers pursuing education in fiscal year 2012. The program allowed nearly 4,500 soldiers to earn a bachelor’s degree.
In the interim, soldiers can continue to access their GI Bill benefits or use funding from other sources such as grants, scholarships or state tuition assistance if they are available, according to Fort Hood officials.
The tuition assistance program was created to help active-duty military complete a high school diploma, certificate program or college degree. The program allows the Army to pay 100 percent of the tuition and fees charged by a participating school up to $250 per credit hour, or $4,500 per year.
The program’s suspension could have a major impact on area colleges such as Central Texas College and Texas A&M University-Central Texas. Randy McCauley, a spokesman for A&M-Central Texas, said about 47 percent of its students were military affiliated, but not all are active-duty soldiers.
“Our staff is here to assist in any way we can, and help students find out what options they have,” he said.
Central Texas College not only serves members of the military at its Killeen campus, but also has campuses at Fort Hood and at military installations overseas.
Chancellor Thomas Klincar said CTC would see a downturn in enrollment for its upcoming eight-week sessions because any student who hadn’t yet registered would not be able to enroll using tuition assistance.
“This was a very sudden action, and our focus today was on developing ways that we can assist these students,” Klincar said Friday. “Worldwide, our staff is standing by to assist students with financial aid and veterans benefit applications.”
If the program is suspended when CTC begins to register students for upcoming semesters, the consequences could be severe.
“If the issue is not resolved before the next enrollment period, it will be a crisis for Central Texas College and all colleges who serve a large military student population,” Klincar said. “The larger issue, however, is the blow to the soldier-students. Taking soldiers’ tuition assistance is a broken promise to the same soldiers we expect to defend us.”
Killeen Daily Herald Military Editor Rose L. Thayer contributed to this report.