One positive outcome due to the pandemic is that soldiers are using more tuition assistance than in the past three years. In a reversal of what had been a recent three-year trend downward, Tuition Assistance (TA) use in the Army is up this year by 10%. Between active duty and mobilized Selected Reservists (the National Guard and Army Reserve), 100,893 soldiers had used TA during FY20 fiscal year which ended on September 30.
Tuition Assistance in the Army
The reason for the increase is two-fold: First, soldiers had more time on their hands due to pandemic stay-at-home orders, and many of them wisely decided to use that time to pursue more personal or professional self-development education and let the Army pay the bill. Second, in 2018, the Army eliminated their one-year wait time after the completion of Advanced Individual Training (AIT) for enlisted or the Basic Officer Leaders Course (BOLC) for officers before using TA, so more soldiers could start using that active duty benefit sooner. The Army also waived the previous rule that soldiers who used TA to fund their bachelor’s degree had to wait 10 years before they could again use TA to fund an advanced degree.
Under the Army’s current TA program, they will pay up to $250 per semester hour and up to 16 semester hours per fiscal year (up to $4,000) to finance college courses taken at U.S. Department of Education recognized accredited schools. Courses may be taken on campus or remotely.
Other Military Branches Using up Tuition Assistance
However, the Army is not the only branch of service that has seen an uptick in TA usage. By August 20, 80,430 airmen had used all of the $163.4 million that the Air Force had allocated for TA in their FY20 budget. They were able to secure an additional $17.6 million in funding to authorize the remaining unfunded TA requests through the end of FY20 ending on September 30. But to prevent running out of money in FY21, the Air Force reduced the overall amount of TA authorized per airman from $4,500 per year down to $3,750 in an attempt to make TA available to more Airman and still stay within their forecasted FY21 TA budget. Under the new guidelines, the Air Force will still pay up to $250 per semester credit but will only fund up to 15 credits in the new FY.
The Navy ran out of TA funds in FY19, so they had already instituted a change in the amount of TA sailors could use in FY20. Under its current FY21 guidelines, sailors must have served for at least two years before they can use TA and are limited to $3,000 per year in TA funding.
Tuition Assistance is Key to Military Growth
The military sees TA program as a way to better able servicemembers to operate and maintain equipment that keeps getting more complex and lethal with each new product release or current product update. All the branches are fully committed to funding their individual TA programs, but they have been forced to make program changes, so they can educate the maximum number of servicemembers and still stay within their TA budget.