The Defense Department may ease tuition assistance rules for deployed service members to make it easier for them to take classes, a DoD official said Tuesday.

“They have extra time on their hands, in some cases, and they want to do more,” said Dawn Bilodeau, chief of DoD Voluntary Education.

The DoD tuition assistance program, commonly called TA, sets caps on how many courses students can take at a time — and how much in tuition costs it will pay.

But for deployed troops, DoD officials are rethinking of the current TA cap of $250 per semester hour and $4,500 per fiscal year. They are also considering whether to pay fees, as well as tuition ― only tuition is covered now ― and waive a time-in-service requirement used by some service branches.

Speaking at the annual Council of College and Military Educators held in San Diego this week, DoD officials outlined several other education-related changes that the department is developing or considering.

Career Path DECIDE

This interactive web tool, currently in the final testing phase, will help service members identify the steps they’ll need to take to pursue a specific career field after the military.

“Basically, it takes a bunch of federal data sources from Department of Labor to the College Navigator that the Department of Education has, and it makes that information consumable for our service members,” Bilodeau said.

Users will be able to input information such as their branch of service, rank and military occupational specialty to see potential careers that most closely align with their in-service experience.

“It also allows them to see what they’re good to go for right now but gives them aspirations for higher-level, intermediate, senior-level jobs in that same career field and tells them ... what’s their best next step,” Bilodeau said.

Joint Services Transcript updates

In another move to try to ease service members’ transition into civilian employment, DoD is contemplating changes to the Joint Services Transcript used by schools to award college credit for military experience.

The updates would mean the JST “actually looks at skills, knowledge and abilities that a service member has gained through the military” so that it can be used by employers and credentialing bodies, in addition to schools, Bilodeau said.

She said this is one of the largest upcoming projects her office will undertake, as it meets with groups of stakeholders to identify next steps.

Base access

Schools wanting to provide education counseling services to their military-connected students currently must have more than 20 students on a military installation in order to be granted access to the base.

Fred Drummond, deputy assistant secretary of defense for force education and training, said that because of feedback from institutions that will likely be changing soon.

A new policy, which garnered loud applause from the audience, wouldn’t differentiate between schools with one student or 100 when deciding whether to allow them on a particular base. Instead, the decision would depend on what the installation commander could accommodate.

Drummond told Military Times the goal is to make the policy “fair and equitable.”

Military Times contributor and former reporter Natalie Gross hosts the Spouse Angle podcast. She grew up in a military family and has a master's degree in journalism from Georgetown University.

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