With all of the recent back and forth, finger pointing and blame laying that led up to the sequestration, most of it seems like it’s much ado about nothing. Security lines at airports are a little longer and the White House raised a kerfuffle about not being able to afford to conduct tours, but for the most part, it was no big deal. But then this news hit: in early March, all military branches except for the Navy suspended tuition assistance for active duty members because of the budget cuts associated with sequestration.
This was terrible news for active duty men and women in our armed services. I’ve written before that servicemen and women are being crushed by student loan debt and the loss of tuition assistance would only worsen this dilemma. As it stands, our military personnel are often so financially strapped that shopping for what they need on Craigslist is a matter of due course and many military families rely on food stamps and other assistance just to get by.
Increasingly, the armed forces are made up of educated people – much moreso than in the past. At one time, you could drop out of high school and join the military – you didn’t even need a GED. And remember way back in the day when judges would “sentence” a juvenile delinquent to military service? Their choice was go to the Army (or Marines) or go to jail. Long gone are those days, though.
Nowadays, the armed forces are highly selective. You must have a high school diploma and many enlisted personnel have college degrees or complete them while in the service – often to be eligible for promotions that can improve their finances and allow them to better support their families.
To get to be an officer, you have to have a degree before you can be recommended – it is rare to vault into officer’s ranks on merit alone anymore. With this much emphasis on education, it seems terrible to strip away the program that facilitates education for our soldiers. But thankfully, last week Congress voted to make it mandatory for the armed services to continue the tuition assistance program. Currently, this costs the branches a combined $700 million. What Congress didn’t offer was any additional funding to help cover the costs…
The military tuition assistance program covers up to $4,500 per year for each active duty soldier. The push in Congress to reinstate the TA program was bipartisan, co-sponsored by Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and Senator Kay Hagan (D-NC). Inhofe said of their budget amendment to preserve TA: “This is an earned benefit that not only assists in recruiting and retention efforts for our all-volunteer force, but it also improves the lives of our men and women as they seek leadership opportunities within the military.”
The reinstatement of the tuition assistance program is a welcome about face for soldiers and their families, particularly those already struggling financially or dealing with the burden of student loans. Now if only the in-state tuition proposition would pass, our soldiers could make even more out of their TA dollars. If you’ve got student loans – whether you’re a soldier, a sailor or just a regular Joe that these soldiers are protecting – try Tuition.io’s free student loan management tool that can help you master your student loan debt, pursue consolidation or find alternate repayment plans and contact your lenders – all in one easy to use interface!