Officials seek DOD-wide tuition assistance plan
By Donna Miles, American Forces Press Service
/ Published October 20, 2011
WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- Pentagon officials are reviewing the Defense Department's tuition assistance policy, and no DOD-wide decision has been made to change benefits, officials said Oct 20.
All military services are providing input to the DOD review, officials said. Any recommended changes must be instituted in a deliberate, thoughtful manner that maintains the integrity of a joint, uniform policy for all service members.
Tuition assistance is a popular benefit for military members, particularly in light of the rising costs of post-secondary education courses.
However, in light of high military participation in the program, officials said the current tuition assistance policy has created funding challenges for the services. During fiscal 2010, tuition assistance costs totaled $542 million, they reported.
In light of current fiscal constraints, the services consider these costs unsustainable, officials said. However, even if adjustments are made to the program, they emphasized that the department will continue to support its members' higher education goals.
"Opportunities for personal and professional growth have long been a part of military life, and the Department of Defense is committed to helping service members pursue civilian education while in uniform," said Robert L. Gordon III, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for military community and family policy.
Among educational offerings at military commands and installations is access to tuition
assistance counselors who provide face-to-face guidance to service members and their families, officials said.
In addition, the Voluntary Education Program portal addresses a full range of educational issues from tuition assistance and financial aid to information on more than 1,800 colleges and universities. The portal may be found at http://apps.mhf.dod.mil/voled.
Meanwhile, DOD's off-duty, voluntary education programs represent one of the world's largest continuing education program, officials said. About 300,000 service members enroll in post-secondary courses in year, leading to associate, bachelor's, master's, and doctorate degrees.
Colleges and universities also deliver classroom instruction through an extensive network to hundreds of military installations around the world.
Easier access to online educational programs -- regardless of where a service member may be assigned or deployed has sparked higher participation and greater use of educational benefits, officials said.
This comes at a time when tuition and fees have increased dramatically.
In 2002, the average cost of an undergraduate course enrollment was $276.79 and for graduate work $461.70, officials said. Today, that same coursework cost $600.40 and $750.00, respectively.
These issues, combined, have created financial conditions that need to be addressed now to preserve the benefit, officials said.
While the DOD review continues, the Marine Corps announced new tuition assistance eligibility and funding provisions and restrictions that took effect Oct. 1.