Sequestration results in suspension of military tuition assistance program

Wichita EagleMarch 13, 2013 

Automatic defense spending cuts has resulted this week in the suspension of the military tuition assistance program for service members for the rest of fiscal year 2013 for most branches, including the Air Force.

That could affect more than 3,000 airmen at Wichita’s McConnell Air Force Base who are eligible for the program. About half of those airmen received college tuition money from the program in fiscal year 2012.

The suspension doesn’t affect those currently enrolled in classes using previously approved tuition assistance, a base spokesman said.

The fiscal year ends Sept. 30. The Air Force said it will evaluate the program in coming months to determine if it will be renewed the following year.

The suspension came after the defense department comptroller told the service branches they should consider “significant reductions in funding new tuition assistance applicants, effective immediately,” Leslie HullRyde, a department spokeswoman, said in an e-mail.

The recommendation was the result of automatic spending cuts – known as sequestration – that began March 1.

Each service branch is responsible for funding and administering the tuition assistance program.

Besides the Air Force, the Army and Marine Corps chose this week to suspend their programs. The Navy is still reviewing its options, according to the defense department.

“This program enables the professional and personal development of our service members,” HullRyde said, “and also facilitates their transition to the civilian workforce.”

The program can only be used by active duty service members pursuing an educational goal. Members of National Guard and reserve units can use the program while on active duty. The program pays up to $4,500 a year per student.

At McConnell in fiscal year 2012, 1,547 airmen with the 22nd Air Refueling Wing, the reserve’s 931st Air Refueling Group and Kansas Air National Guard’s 184th Intelligence Wing received tuition money from the program.

Guard members also can use a tuition assistance program funded by the state. That program is still available, a spokesman said.

In fiscal year 2012, the program provided $194 million to more than 104,000 airmen to take college courses, according to the Air Force. The airmen used the money to help them earn nearly 27,000 associate degrees, 2,400 baccalaureate degrees and almost 3,400 graduate degrees.

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