Updated: Sweeping Changes To The Army’s Tuition Assistance Program Beginning January 2014

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Update: Alaract 317/2013 was published on 2 December 2013 – The message clarifies changes to the Tuition Assistance (TA) Policy for the remainder of FY14, with the changes going into effect on 1 January 2014:

  1. Soldiers will be eligible for TA upon successful completion of 1 year of service, following completion of Initial Military Training (IMT).
  2. Soldiers are eligible for a post bachelor’s degree after 10 years of service. There is no 10 year requirement if TA was not used for the initial bachelor’s degree.
  3. Each year Soldiers are covered for up to 16 semester hours per year, at the maximum rate of $250 per semester hour.

With the ever rising cost of college tuition, Tuition Assistance provides Soldiers the opportunity to further their education while serving.  The US Army has one of the most Soldier-centric and robust TA programs available.  It offers financial assistance for voluntary off-duty education programs in support of a Soldier’s professional and personal self-development goals.

TA is available for courses that are offered in the classroom or by distance learning. The courses must be offered by schools that are registered in GoArmyEd and are accredited by accrediting agencies that are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Providing 100% of the tuition and fees charged by a College, up to the established per semester hour cap of $250, and fiscal cap of $4,500. Additional details on the provisions of TA are found in AR 621-5.

Unfortunately, according to the Sergeant Major of the Army (SMA) that’s due to change.

SMA Chandler during an August 7th interview with the Army Times:

“I think we are going to have changes in tuition assistance! While it’s unlikely that the popular tuition assistance program will be abruptly shutdown as it was in March, Chandler noted that the Army has the broadest tuition assistance program of any of the services right now, and “it’s expensive, and I believe there are some refinements we can make within that program.”

Sweeping Changes to Army Tuition Assistance

It’s been a few months since the SMA spoke about altering TA, now the grapevine is starting to spread word of the pending changes.

Below is the G-1’s note regarding upcoming changes to the Tuition Assistance program:

We have taken a hard look at the Tuition Assistance (TA) program with a focus on the intent of the program – to provide financial assistance for voluntary off-duty education in support of Soldiers’ professional and personal self-development goals. It also supports retaining quality Soldiers and assists in returning Soldiers to civilian careers along with supporting three of the seven ALDS imperatives:

1) commitment to the Army Profession, life-long learning

2) training, education and experience components of leader development and

3) management of the military/civilian talent to benefit the institution and individual.

In the next few days we will announce some new policies effective 1 January 2014. Those include the following: Soldiers cannot use TA until after successful completing their first year in the Army after graduation from AIT. They are restricted to 16SHs/year and Soldiers cannot use TA for a second, higher-level degree until completion of 10 years time in service.

Soldiers will continue to receive $250/SH and current policy limits Soldiers to 130 SHs for completion of a bachelor’s degree and 39 SHs for a master’s degree. Soldiers cannot be funded for a second equivalent degree, i.e., no second bachelor’s or master’s degree. All courses must be part of an approved degree plan. TA cannot be used for first professional degrees, e.g., PhD,MD, JD.

In addition to DA adverse action flags, we will continue our policy to not allow TA for Soldiers who are flagged for APFT/Height/Weight.

Ask for your support in getting the message out to commanders and units to ease any concerns they might have over these new limitations. This policy is designed to maximize use of TA for all Soldiers across all components in a constrained budget environment.


Allen D. Clifton


Over the years I’ve counseled NCO’s, Soldiers and applicants about the importance of continuing their education. Both, to increase their chances of being promoted, and to better posture them for Life after the Army. I’m truly interested in seeing how this will be received by the Soldiers…

What are your thoughts?


Curtez Riggs is a Retired Army Soldier, Entrepreneur, and friend to at least two important people. He is also the founder of the Military Influencer Conference℠, an exciting, dynamic event that brings together hundreds of spouses, community leaders, entrepreneurs, and influencers united by a passion for the military. You can find him online at: Twitter | LinkedIn | Facebook

  1. The changes to the Army’s Federal Tuition Assistance program starting 01 JAN 2014 is one of the most short-sited decisions I have ever seen. This change will have major impact on both the Army National Guard and Army Reserve Soldiers. To expect a National Guard or Army Reserve Soldier to wait for a year from the completion of their AIT is going to have a significant impact on Army National Guard and Army Reserve recruiting retention. FTA is a major reason why National Guard and Reserve Soldiers join in addition to serving the country. 16 credit hours a year? That is a major joke that is not funny and to implement this change in the middle of school year shows how short sited this decision is. A reminder that Army Guard and Reserve units have been deployed multiple times to Iraq and Afghanistan, so many times one would think the units are active duty troops. If the U.S. wants to maintain an all volunteer force of professional Soldiers then they must be compensated as many are in private enterprise. That is the sector of the economy the Army competes with in attracting quality people. The primary reason why FTA and other benefits were improved starting the late 70s was due to the fact the Army and other military branches could not compete with private enterprise and were losing the recruiting battle. If the Army is allowed to cut this benefit what is next-medical care?

  2. I think taking away benefits from soldiers will definitely have a huge impact on how many civilians will join military. Soldiers risk their lives for this benefit only for Obama to take it from them and misuse it elsewhere. I rather see budget cut on welfare, where it is actually crippling our nation versus taking it from those who protect United States and our Freedoms.

  3. Not sure if anyone else has ran into this problem yet. The person in charge of TA for my state informed me in the fall that fees charged by an institution were not authorized for use with TA unless the fee is specific to a class. At the university I am attending, the per credit hour cost is $260, which I found out is $166 tuition plus $94 in (non-TA eligible) fees. For a full time status of 13 credits, the Army would only pay $2158 of the $3380 I owe per semester.

    Now with this new policy, the MAXIMUM amount that will be paid per year is $2656 (16 * $166), far short of the $4500 per year alloted amount. There is no way to use the entire amount afforded to me, short of going to a school that charges $250 for tuition only and then has extra class fees of $500.

    • Very Good Point. Now for everyone who is exchanging their opinions on FTA which is good, want to reverse this situation, call and I mean call your Congressmen and U.S. Senators. Many members of Congress are unaware of this change. Practice good government and practice using the Constitution, the very bed rock of America which each service member has taken an oath to uphold and defend.

  4. Soldiers that were flagged couldn’t use TA anyways. Some leaders just failed to enforce this rule!

  5. Education non-related to your specific job is in fact unnecessary, however, that said, certainly relevant as you get further in years for centralized boards, I think five successful years should be the mark for full TA benefits, why you might ask, if you are in a combat arms MOS as I was for 20 years, you lose a lot of time for this and that, at 10 years you can’t just stop and get a degree for the board. It took me 8 years to get an associate degree, I was never in one place longer than a year except when I was stationed at Fort Hood, was locked in for two years and thats where I finished my associates at CTC. I began a 4 year degree, retied in 2006, graduated in June 2013, now working on my Masters which will not take long because I now have the time.

    I had a great CSM tell me as a private, what ever you do to earn your first promotion, you will have to do that for the rest of your career, he said it best to learn my job and one level up and it will carry me up the ranks, he was right. If you are combat arms, worry about your jib, your life depends more on that than a college degree.

    I would say this however, as it is a requirement for some promotions, then all of you write the SMA and ask hime to make changes to the NCOES, every one of them should be college credit centric, when you finish SLC, that should be your bachelors degree. Lets face it, the NCOES is so outdated, I went on foot patrols in ANCOC (now SLC). Write your SMA, make changes, get credit for what you know and do, cheers and thank you all for your continued service.

    • Jay –
      Your situation is exactly why the DoD back in the 1990’s initiated, as part of the voluntary-education program, Distance Learning programs, and why the GoArmyEd system was established so soldiers could continue their education regardless of where they were stationed through online schools and programs. I spent 25 years in the Infantry, and delayed my education due to mission requirements, etc. Just because I did does not mean that all should. Limiting soldiers to college courses/programs that are related to their MOS pre-supposes the soldier had a choice in selecting their MOS at the time of enlistment, this is not the case. Also, soldiers at the time of re-enlistment, have the opportunity of switching their MOS. Limiting them to college courses/programs related to their MOS could mean they waste TA funds if the previous courses are not inline with their current MOS.

      The Army is in the process of changing its learning model, and the new U.S. Army Learning Concept – 2015 outlines the need to provide Soldiers of all ranks the opportunity to continue their professional development both through civilian and military educational programs.

      Soldiers who are able to learn their MOS, meet the APFT/HT-WT standards, complete their required NCOES, and who also have the initiative and perseverance to also take college courses and earn their degree, is demonstrating leadership characteristics favorable for advancement. Also, it provides for learning things which allow the Soldier to better critically think and analyze the situation, which is a major element of executing sound judgment.

      • Edmund,

        I concur with all that you have said here, one correction however, we transitioned from ALC 2015 to ALM, yes, while no changes to the actual cover have changes the Army now says it’s a model, no longer a concept. I do hope the Army NCOES is under much needed change, as an 11B you likely went to a few of these and were given outdated information as I was. The sad part is I would have gotten more from distance learning, but it was nice to see old friends and have a cold one. NCO’s lead the way, anything a Soldier needs to learn up to the 5 year mark should be the responsibility of that first line supervisor, when that Soldier, who should now be ready for lower leadership positions attains the rank of SGT, let there be a NCOES at this level that provides college level training, as you stated, even if not related to their MOS, which their Leaders should train, they need to be prepared to apply those critical thinking concepts and tools to a myriad of applications. As a NCO, he/she must be proficient in the spoken and written form in order to be taken serious above and below, they must have extended computer literacy in this techno advancing world in which we live, and lastly but not all inclusive they must know the history of America and of the military as a whole for posterity sake. My thoughts on the NCOES are simple, 3 levels of training, JR NCO, 6 months non MOS specific, Senior NCO, 6 months non mod specific and of course, USASMA which from what i hear needs a lot of changes, i will hold on that until my son in law finishes in March. I think everyone can agree changes need to happen, however, i would say that under the current budget crises things will worsen before they get better, and thanks to all still serving, not everyone can do it, cheers.

  6. The proposed changes to Army Tuition Assistance are counter intuitive to many of the programs the Army has implemented in recent years. First, The College of the American Soldier Program, which includes within it a program called the Enlisted Education Program, was developed to provide first-term Soldiers the opportunity to earn an Associate’s Degree during their first term of service, normally four-years in length. The intent was to ensure Soldiers could earn at least an Associate’s Degree while in the Army so when they made the transition from the military to civilian, they were better prepared. The proposed changes, initially discussed by SMA Chandler, and revealed in the commentary by Mr. Riggs, will greatly impact this from being a reality. If a Soldier is prohibited from utilizing TA until one-year after becoming MOSQ, completion of their AIT; will leave less than three-years on a Soldier’s first-term contract. Most Associate’s Degrees are between 60 and 65 credit hours in length, depending on whether the school is on a quarter or semester hour system. Considering no transferability of military training and experience to the Associates Degree, it will take a Soldier 3.3 years to complete the degree at 18 credit hours per year, which is the current credit hour annual cap funded by TA. Assuming 15 credit hours were able to be transferred to the Associate’s Degree from their JST, it would take 2.8 years for a Soldier to complete the Associate’s Degree with the reduced annual credit hour cap. This assumes the Soldier is able to pursue their education without any interruptions whatsoever, which is not likely in the Army.
    Secondly, the soldier, identified in SMA Chandler’s interview for Army Times on 13 Aug 2013, who emailed the SMA discussing that he was only two courses away from completing his Master’s Degree and he was in his first-term of enlistment, should be commended rather than be questioned as to what he was doing. First of all, if he is below the rank of SFC/E-7 then his Chain of Command must approve him to use Tuition Assistance on an annual basis. Any issues with the Soldier’s performance and/or not maintaining appropriate standards would have prohibited him from using TA. Second, college courses can only be taken during non-duty hours. If the soldier had the drive, initiative, and determination to complete a Master’s Degree, he is the kind of Soldier I would have wanted in any of my Commands when I was wearing the uniform.
    Finally, for those who comment that service members have their GI Bill and do not think there is an issue with TA reductions, I would like to remind you of a few things regarding the purpose and intent of the GI Bill. First, the GI Bill is intended as a POST service benefit to assist the service member in making the transition from military service to the civilian sector, which in today’s society and economy, is not an easy task. If service member uses their Chapter 33 Post 9/11 GI Bill while serving, it is not dollar amounts that are lost, but rather months of eligibility based on whether the service member is full-time or part-time. Second, the Post 9/11 GI Bill is the first Veteran Education Benefit that can be transferred to dependents in total. In order to be allowed to transfer GI Bill Benefits to one’s dependents requires the service member to meet certain requirements, and to have a certain amount of time remaining in the service. In many cases, service members have had to extend in order to transfer their benefits to their children.

    • Great comment, and thanks for bringing things into perspective. I’ve never heard of the Enlisted Education Program, or the value it has for Soldiers in MOS that are often in positions that make it difficult for them to obtain a degree.

  7. I’m am wondering if ROTC Cadets who are in Simultaneous Membership Program through the Reserves or National Guard (09 R) will still be eligable. We are not required to attend AIT, as ROTC is our only training requirement besides BOLC.

  8. If the U.S start taking everything away from its military, know one will want to volunteer to serve. For all of you people that believe that the military is being treated to well, think about if know one volunteers then the U.S start making your kids and grand kids serve for 2 years just like every other nation in the world. Plus think about this too the U.S is always involved with every WAR!!! in the world. So all of you Congressmen and Representatives and civilians that keep on “taking” from the volunteer military, keep pushing until your kids and grand kids have to be forced to serve or go to jail. I say congress is the one who need to take a huge pay cut. You represent the people not lobbyists who is for sale and by the way who is supplying all the enemies of the U.S with the money you give them. I am an American Soldier and U.S citizen

  9. The Air Force made similar changes to its program for fiscal year 2014, but overall they weren’t as restrictive. The major changes were:
    1. Supervisors are required to approve all tuition assistance requests
    2. No TA for airmen with PT test failures, unfavorable information files, or referral performance reports
    3. Foreign language courses are now only approved as part of a degree program or if they are on the approved shortage list
    The annual limit of $4,500 stayed the same and there is no limit on credit hours per degree. The supervisor can deny TA for airmen in upgrade training, if they will be going TDY/PCSing, attending professional military education, or other factors that would keep the airmen from successfully completing the course. As a supervisor, I don’t see myself denying many TA requests because I think it is important for personal and professional development. However, I can foresee some instances where it might be warranted if airmen had sub-standard performance and it was partly attributable to focusing too much on school and not enough on job responsibilities.
    Overall the changes were received positively and I haven’t heard anyone complain. But again, the changes were less restrictive than the Army’s. My suggestion is to better coordinate GI Bill benefits with TA. Tuition Assistance Top Up is only available for courses that are partially funded through TA. For the Montgomery GI Bill under Top Up, you are charged one month for every $1,648 received. But if you cannot use TA for the course, using the GI Bill while on active duty eats up your months of benefit very quickly. Under the MGIB, you use up one month for every month you use the benefit, regardless of how much money you actually receive. So if you have a four-month course that costs $1500, you’d use up 28 days of benefits under Top Up, but four months under the regular program. I wish Top Up-like benefits were available to everyone on active duty for all courses that are eligible for the GI Bill.

  10. Will Soldiers be grandfathered in for the year if they haven’t met that requirement but are already at their first duty station?

  11. I believe education is crucial. However, TA is a benefit. Not in a contract like the GI Bill. If an organization is facing cutbacks due to an economy that’s in crisis….. I believe it is a definite misfortunate event but, yet an extra benefit that needs to be cut. No one is saying take away the GI Bill, or that the soldier can’t attend college….. (What other organization gives you a Full ride GI Bill in addition to Free college while serving in their organization???) none

    • Not everyone gets that “full ride” GI bill. National Guard and Reserve soldiers have to deploy 2 times before they are even eligible, unless they spend 2 years or more on active duty in something beside IET status (in support of an operation or war). We depend on the TA almost exclusively to get us through school, AND it was something I signed my contract assuming would be there when I finished my 1.5 years of AIT and basic. My active duty counterparts start their clock the day they swear in, as AIT and basic count toward their time for post-911 benefits.

    • I would ask you to consider what other organization, comes with the inherent dangers of serving? While their are a ton of ways for the Army to cut spending should TA be that source?

  12. I don’t think it’s anything unreasonable, we shouldn’t be paying for degrees for overweight and new soldiers, around 10 years is when it becomes important to get that advance degree, those that received it beforehand were more likely to leave the Army for the civilian world

    • Megan my friend there are a lot of soldiers overweight in the military some has even died so you can have the freedoms you enjoy today. Weight has nothing to do with the situation. Over weight people just like under weight people has given their lives and service for our country. So should all the over weight people pack up and come home I don’t think so.

      • Actually, I do think so. We need to go back to enforcing standards. In fact, we are doing so – weight discharges are up dramatically and now the norm. However, the TA suspension is to give them time to focus and coming back into compliance and another motivator to do so.

        • Spoken like a typical SGM, I get the enforcing standards but some of them were over weight when you sign them up! You are saying let them in but don’t let them have their benefits. So he or she is good enough to die for his country over weight but he shouldn’t be compensated. You see the trees but you don’t see the forest! The deciding factor her should be he serve his country now give him his benefits. You sound like some of our elected officials back in the day when they said sign up for the military and get free health care over $500.00 a year plus I am still paying for free health care.

        • Stanley, You won’t get any argument from me on the health care promises. However, the difference is that the regulation on weight control never changed. It always said that Soldiers who didn’t meet body composition standards could be flagged for any favorable actions and have separations initiated. In fact, even during the war, the overweight Soldiers were flagged (no promotions, etc) putting them on notice that they were not meeting standards. In addition, it is true that individuals were allowed to enter the Army without meeting weight standards, however (as a former TRADOC SGM) I can guarantee they were still required to meet the standards by the end of their AIT before shipping to their first permanent duty station. Again, I admit many of those units allowed these Soldiers to fall back into old habits and gain the weight back without separating them (especially if they had a valuable skill). However, that doesn’t mean we should continue investing Tuition Assistance in them if they aren’t going to meet the standard and stay in. By the way, a weight control separation does not impact veteran’s benefits so they will still have 4 years of education totally paid for by the Army with SGT BAH and a book allowance once separated so it’s not like they are being thrown out with nothing.

        • Hey SGM, go back and take a look at AR 600-9, up until recently it has stated that intitial entry soldiers were not accountable to the body fat standards with less than 12 months TIS. The new AR 600-9 has cut that back to 6 months TIS

        • Sean, Okay, valid point…our course is a long, highly technical one, so all our troops have 12 months in by the time they graduate and were always covered by AR 600-9 but I guess it covers a lot more of them now….

    • New soldiers might need to wait a year to make progress on their military training– but the sooner servicemembers can start on their education & degrees, the better.

      • Now we are potentially delaying the promotion potential of Soldiers that need college credits to be competitive.

        • If everyone is under the same rules, we aren’t hurting anyone because they compete against each other. Also, there is still plenty of time to get the degree after you take a year to learn your job. I (by choice) waited about a year to start taking college courses, still managed a Master’s degree and promotion to SGM during my career (and I took one class per term so I didn’t take more than 16 SHs a year).

        • I see to many people thinking from an Active Duty Centric perspective. You need to start thinking of the impact on the Army Guard and Reserves. I will remind those of you who are unaware a significant number of Army Guard units are part of the active reserve not the strategic reserve. That is why the Iowa Army National Guard has been deployed multiple times. And you know what there may have been some over weight Soldiers, but they get the job done. A reminder that at the beginning of WWII when the U.S. entered the war, 19 units of the Army National Guard were activated and saw extensive combat time, especially the 34th Infantry DIV. More combat time than Big Red One.

  13. Thanks for sharing this information! I guess changes are better than cancellation of the program.

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