Amanda Hayman, an Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University adjunct instructor, reviews the course syllabus with students at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, S.C. Marine officials say the Corps has a $44 million budget for the tuition assistance program. (Lance Cpl. Timothy Norris/Marine Corps)
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Millions of dollars in funds remain for tuition assistance this fiscal quarter, which ends Dec. 31. In fact, only one-third of the funds available in the first three months of fiscal year 2014 have been spent, Marine officials say.
Meanwhile, the requirements for first-time applicants have been relaxed, making more Marines eligible for the popular program.
Prerequisites for first-time TA applicants were toughened in September when a slew of new requirements brought Marine Corps policy in line with the Navy’s tougher rules.
Among new requirements, Marines were required to attend both a leadership and a financial management class before their requests for assistance could be approved. The leadership course requirement was rescinded Nov. 12, however, with the release of MARADMIN 595/13.
Most Marines applying for tuition assistance will have already taken the course, since it is a requirement for promotion from lance corporal to corporal, according to the Marine and Family Programs Division’s written responses to questions from Marine Corps Times. Even so, lance corporals applying for assistance will not be required to have completed the course to receive aid.
The message also included an administrative change, correcting the course number of the financial management course, which is still required.
The changes were made formal in MARADMIN 611/13, signed Nov. 18, which outlines the transition assistance program as it currently stands.
Other changes made in September to toughen eligibility rules remain in place. They include a time-in-service requirement; Marines must serve at least 24 months before applying. Additionally, first-time students will only be approved for one course.
For all Marines, funds approved for classes that a Marine later fails will count toward the $4,500 annual maximum. Financial assistance will be approved for only one course following a semester during which a Marine’s grade-point average falls below 2.5, he receives a “D” or voluntarily withdraws from a course.
Although $44 million has been allocated for the tuition assistance program this year, it is contingent upon Congress reaching another budget agreement when the continuing resolution, which is now funding government operations, expires in January. It could also be affected by sequestration, said Heather Hagan, a Marine and Family Programs Division spokeswoman at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va.
The budget is divided into quarters, so $11 million was available for Marines in the first quarter of fiscal year 2014. Two-thirds of the way through the quarter, just $3.5 million has been spent.
Tuition assistance has been a contentious topic since the spring, when several services announced major cutbacks to their programs in response to the across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration.
The Marine Corps was among the services that canceled the program for a short time in late March, but the program was back online by early April after Congress — in response to a barrage of complaints from service members and their families — required the services to reinstate their programs for the rest of the fiscal year.
The services have resisted pressure to force troops to pick up part of the tab for their studies, for example by returning to a pre-2002 rule that required service members to pay 25 percent of their tuition costs out of pocket.■