By David Vergun
Army News Service
Beginning Jan. 1, there will be a cap on the number of semester hours that can be taken using Tuition Assistance, and tighter TA eligibility rules.
Soldiers will be able to use TA one year after graduating from initial entry training, said Brig. Gen. David MacEwen, adjutant general of the Army, Human Resources Command, Fort Knox, Ky.
Also, Soldiers can take up to 16 semester hours per fiscal year. TA can be used for a post-baccalaureate degree after completing 10 years of military service, MacEwen said. If a Soldier earned a bachelor’s degree without using TA, then they do not need to wait 10 years to use TA for a post-baccalaureate degree.
This policy affects all Soldiers in the active and Reserve components.
Based on current participation rates, Dr. Pamela Raymer, director, Army Continuing Education System, forecasted the number of Soldiers impacted as follows:
Those who would have used TA with less than one year’s service after IET: 4,030 active, 3,017 Army National Guard and 1,216 Army Reserve. Soldiers who would normally have taken more than 16 semester hours per year: 20,271 active, 6,206 Guard and 12,007 Reserve. Soldiers with less than 10 years’ service pursuing post-baccalaureate degrees: 1,315 active, 220 Guard and 367 Reserve.
Other TA policies from 2013 will remain in effect next year, Raymer said, including allowing Soldiers to use up to $250 per semester hour.
The cap of 130 semester hours for baccalaureate degree completion and 39 semester hours for a master’s degree remains in effect. This coursework must be from the Soldier’s approved degree plan in GoArmyEd, a plan Soldiers develop with their education counselor and their home school, she said.
Also remaining in effect, Raymer said, is that TA cannot be used for a second, equivalent degree. For instance, if a Soldier has a master’s degree, he or she can’t use TA for a second master’s degree.
Soldiers still cannot use TA for their “first professional degree.” Such degrees include Ph.D, MD and JD. The Department of Education categorizes these degrees as “first-professional” degrees. Army has fully-funded education programs that support these degree programs.
Soldiers who have been flagged for adverse action or failure of the Army physical fitness test or weight standards will not be able to use TA, Raymer said.
Soldiers may also continue using TA for non-degree language courses published on the Defense Department’s Strategic Language List as “immediate investment” or “emerging” languages. TA cannot be used for “enduring languages.” To see this list of languages, see a unit education advisor.
TA is authorized for one post-secondary certificate or diploma such as welding or computer certification. TA can continue to be used for courses leading to initial teacher certification programs.
Soldiers who are precluded from using TA or limited by the number of semester hours they’re eligible to take can, nonetheless, use their GI Bill education benefits.
COMPREHENSIVE REVIEW The intent is to provide TA to Soldiers “who are in good standing, meet Army requirements and have no adverse flags,” such as not meeting weight standards, MacEwen said. This portion of the policy has already been implemented.
The Army did a “very comprehensive review of the program,” he said. “We found it had gotten a little off track from its original intent, which was to provide for Soldiers a part-time, off-duty way to continue their education. So we capped it.”
The second part of it was that “we wanted young Soldiers to understand the Army and ensure they’re in good standing” before starting TA, so the one-year wait after IET will be implemented Jan. 1.
The third part was that TA is designed “to help with lifelong learning. So if TA paid for a four-year degree and a Soldier wants a post-baccalaureate degree, we want them to wait until they reach the 10-year mark,” which MacEwen defined as the point they become “careerists.” In this way, TA could be used as a retention tool.
PROGRAM DATA Soldiers achieved about a 90 percent completion rate of about 413,000 courses in fiscal year 2013 using tuition assistance, Raymer said. Of the 10 percent who failed to complete their courses, one percent were due to military duties and the remainder were caused by failures or withdrawals.
In fiscal year 2013, active duty Soldiers took an average of 2.7 courses, Guard Soldiers took an average of 3.58 courses, and Reserve Soldiers took an average of 3.40 courses. The average cost per course in fiscal year 2013 was $618 for the active force, $571 for the National Guard and $572 for the Army Reserve.
Raymer also noted that in fiscal year 2013, TA funded the completion of 8,525 degrees for active Soldiers, 1,359 for Guard Soldiers and 1,469 for Reserve Soldiers.
MacEwen lauded the education advisers who help Soldiers formulate their degree plans because this enables them to achieve “good completion rates.”
Raymer said some of the changes to TA for next year came about due to the “fiscally-constrained environment” with a focus on providing funding to meet the intent of a voluntary off-duty education program. Nevertheless, the changes reflect the Army’s effort to “maximize education support to Soldiers” with funding that’s available.
MacEwen concluded that TA is one of a number of educational opportunities the Army affords with the intent of “lifelong learning, helping Soldiers transition to civilian life, and ultimately helping them become better Soldiers. The tweaks we did to the program will serve Soldiers well.”