The Air Force has fully restored airmen’s tuition assistance and Air Force Credentialing Opportunities Online, or AF COOL, funding, after shifting money around to offset rising costs.
In a Thursday release, Lt. Gen. Brian Kelly, the Air Force’s deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel and services, who oversees personnel matters, said the service “was able to reprioritize funding” to allow airmen to once again take full advantage of these programs.
Beginning July 14, the Air Force stopped using the AF COOL program to pay for enlisted airmen to attend preparatory classes or coursework to obtain professional credentials, though airmen could still use the program to pay for the credentials themselves. The Air Force announced those changes nearly three weeks later, on Aug. 3.
And on Sept. 29, the Air Force announced it had cut the maximum amount of tuition assistance airmen could receive in fiscal 2021, from $4,500 to $3,750.
At the time, the Air Force said the cuts had to be made due to rising costs and increased use of these programs. AF COOL is very popular among enlisted airmen, the service said. But some expenses, particularly the preparatory courses, also known as boot camps, had grown too expensive and had to be cut.
The Air Force also saw a spike in service members seeking tuition assistance this spring, which drove it to cut the program’s cap. Service officials said in September that they believed the growth was attributable to airmen staying at home in the initial phase of the COVID-19 pandemic and using that time to pursue educational opportunities.
But now, the reinstated programs will both resume with the same benefits as before, according to the news release.
“We are excited our members are taking advantage of their time under COVID to improve themselves and pursue education,” Kelly said. “The Department of the Air Force was able to reprioritize funding to encourage our service members to maximize their development through these educational benefits.”
Tuition assistance is now back to providing airmen and space professionals up to $4,500 per fiscal year, and a maximum of $250 per semester hour, or quarter hour equivalent, to cover tuition and allowable fees, the release said.
AF COOL is again allowing airmen to use the program’s funding to take preparatory courses, also known as boot camps. Airmen can use up to $4,500 in AF COOL funding in their entire lifetime.
“Voluntary education and military tuition assistance programs continue to be important to the development of our force,” Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force JoAnne Bass said in the release. “I’m glad we were able to take a look at the budget again and allow our airmen to focus on self-improvement, especially during a time where our world has become increasingly virtual during COVID.”
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.