More than 250,000 troops in the Army and Air Force will be affected by tuition assistance program suspensions this year — the number of Marines affected is not yet known.
To help finance his college education, Robert Guthrie, 22, joined the Maryland Army National Guard two years ago. Although he left school to work full time, he had plans to go back and study business management.
But because of federal spending cuts that took effect March 1, Guthrie will need to find other ways to pay for college.
The Army, Air Force and Marine Corps are suspending their tuition assistance programs, denying tuition for thousands of troops.
More than 250,000 troops in the Army and Air Force will be affected by the suspensions this year. The number of Marines affected is not known and Navy officials have not made a decision to cancel their tuition program.
“Tuition being denied to the armed services is a huge disservice,” said Guthrie, who is a member of the military police. “One of the main ways for soldiers to gain points for promotion is through college courses, and with the money for these courses denied to us, we then have to pay them out of our own pockets or through student loans, which adds debt.”
Guthrie added that he used tuition services in the past, and going back to school will be difficult because of the cuts. He said he knows many soldiers who have only attended college because enlisting in the military made it possible.
“I have a friend who was about halfway through his bachelor’s degree, but then got activated for a deployment,” he said. “When he comes back, he will no longer have the benefits to carry on with his school work the way he was before he left, which is a huge disappointment.”
Sequestration will affect military recruitment because military entrance processing stations will shut down one day per week, according to the Army News Service. Employees of the stations will also be furloughed.
Despite the projected reduction in recruits, Guthrie said the military would probably only have moderate decreases in volunteers.
“Many college [students] hopefully will just join the work force, but those unable to find jobs will still join in order to gain job experience and knowledge,” he said.
The Army’s deputy chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Howard B. Bromberg, told the Army News Service that when the Army gave 72-hours notice that the tuition assistance program would end, the program “burned through $500,000 an hour” with last-minute requests.
Michael Wieneke, the assistant director of the Military and Veteran University Services Office (MaV USO) at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, said everyone who applied for tuition assistance for the spring semester received it and are not in danger of losing the assistance.
Veterans will still be able to receive financial support through the G.I. Bill.
Wieneke added that because the problem of tuition cuts is new, his office is looking at ways to pull together resources so active duty military members can continue their education. The MaV USO website lists additional scholarship and funding opportunities.
The scholarships include the Pat Tillman Foundation scholarship, for which veterans, active duty military service members and spouses of active or veteran service members are all eligible to apply — if they are full-time students.
More options for financial assistance are available through the Student Veterans of America, which lists open applications for scholarships.
“We don’t want to leave anyone stranded,” Wieneke said. “Our first and foremost concern is to take care of the students to make sure they … accomplish their goals of higher education.”
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