Soldiers using Army tuition assistance programs will need to foot the bill for new classes this semester after a major failure with the service’s new computer systems.
In a memo sent out last week, Army officials said that they are temporarily suspending funding for any new classes set to start the last week in April. Soldiers who decide to go ahead with the courses anyway “will have to use alternate funding” to cover tuition costs.
“Soldiers enrolled in classes beginning 23 April 2021 and later should contact their educational institution to discuss withdrawing from these classes if they do not want to pay out-of-pocket,” the message states.
Army officials did not say how many soldiers they expected to be impacted by the funding pause. As of last September, more than 100,000 soldiers from all components — active, National Guard and reserve — had used some form of tuition assistance for fiscal 2020 classes.
Under the Army’s tuition assistance program, eligible soldiers can use $4,000 (up to 16 semester hours per fiscal year) to finance college courses from accredited colleges and universities. How much students may be forced to pay out-of-pocket because of the change depends on course credit hours and college costs.
In a statement, Maj. Ashley Bain, spokeswoman for Army University, said the move came after problems arose with the service’s planned switch from its GoArmyEd benefits platform to the new ArmyIgnitED service. The changeover was designed to simplify access to Army education benefits programs, but instead has caused a host of new problems.
“The modernization effort behind ArmyIgnitED has been in the works for several years; however, when the system came online, we realized we had a data migration problem, something not identified during testing,” Bain said. “The data migration has created the delayed launch of the new system, and we are working to resolve this issue.”
Bain said officials are hoping to have the new system operational “in time for soldiers to enroll in May classes through ArmyIgnitED.”
Failing that, the service is developing a “manual process” to allow soldiers to enroll in courses without having to cover costs themselves. No timeline has been given for when those details may be announced.
The new ArmyIgnitED platform is working properly for credentialing assistance payouts, ROTC scholarship payments, and costs for professional development courses for Army civilians, Bain noted.
But the uncertain timeline and sudden postponement of tuition assistance payouts has sparked confusion and panic among families relying on the money to finish their degrees.
“The announcement from the Army last week that tuition assistance is temporarily suspended is concerning at best,” said Tanya Ang, vice president at Veterans Education Success.
“The Army relies on TA for professional advancement and, ultimately, the personnel readiness of the force. We hope that the Army will be able to address this in a timely manner so soldier’s education can continue uninterrupted.”
On the ArmyIgnitED Facebook page, dozens of soldiers and spouses have been lamenting the news and the short-sighted mistakes of Army planners.
“This website is not ready and the soldiers are the ones that suffer?” wrote one student soldier. “I am tired of junior soldiers getting the short end of the stick because people with bright ideas can not keep up their end of the bargain.”
Bain said that soldiers in classes that start prior to April 22 will not be affected by the temporary payment suspension. The changes appear to mainly affect students who need short-session classes lasting a month or two to fill out degree requirements.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.