Tuition Assistance for Active-Duty Service Members in Jeopardy
Tuition assistance for active-duty military personnel will likely be reduced in the near future due to cuts in the federal defense budget, according to a report by for-profit educator American Public Education, Inc.
"[The] Military Tuition Assistance (TA) program may be adversely impacted by Department of Defense budget cuts," reads the report, which was delivered as part of a second quarter earnings conference call this week.
Though the tuition assistance changes are purely speculative at this point, there’s a feeling among insiders that a reduction in benefits is inevitable.
“We all think this is going to happen,” American Public Education’s Jim Sweizer told Inside Higher Ed.
The military has paid 100 percent of tuition costs—up to $4,500 per year and $250 per credit hour—for active-duty service members since 2002. The increase from 75 to 100 percent has since become a central talking point for military recruiters, and spending on the program has nearly tripled in the past decade, to a high of $542 million last year, according to Inside Higher Ed.
Changes in tuition assistance regulations would likely be in response to increased fiscal pressure to reign in military spending. As part of the last-minute debt ceiling deal reached late last month, the military will need to curtail defense spending by some $350 billion over the next decade.
There is also concern that some service members are spending their tuition assistance on poorly-regulated for-profit colleges, many of which cater to military personnel. A March report by the Government Accountability Office recommended that Department of Defense officials increase oversight of institutions eligible for tuition assistance spending.
“Specifically, DOD could benefit from a systematic risk-based oversight approach, increased accountability in its education quality review process, and a centralized system to track complaints,” the report read.
Should service members shoulder the burden of budgetary concerns? With two active wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, spending cuts that could jeopardize the safety of service members or domestic national security are frowned upon.
Regardless, legislators continue to look for cuts elsewhere in the military budget. There’s a staggering $80 billion, for example, of projected spending for military research in 2011—more than 51 percent of the personnel budget over the same period.
A likely compromise would return to the 75-25 split of tuition fees, with students shouldering the smaller portion, which was standard practice before the 2002 increase. Recruiters may struggle, though, to replace the 100 percent tuition assistance as a talking point for wooing students considering military careers.
News of possible tuition assistance reductions comes on the heels of research showing that veterans in college are at an elevated risk for suicidal thoughts and acts compared to non-military students.
A previous version of this story implied veterans who continue their education are at a higher suicide risk; the recent research did not account for education level or duration.
Jon Christian is a reporter with Campus Progress. Follow him on Twitter @Jon_Christian.
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