The Army announced Friday a suspension of new enrollments for tuition assistance programs that currently aid more than 200,000 soldiers in continuing their educations, following similar action by the Marine Corps earlier this week.
Air Force and Navy officials said their own tuition assistance programs were under review as part of the services' efforts by to cope with the Defense Department's requirement to cut about $46 billion in spending by October under the sequestration policy that went into effect on March 1.
"We have not decided yet" on whether to suspend new enrollments for tuition assistance, an Air Force spokesman said. The spokesman could not immediately provide information on how many Air Force personnel are currently receiving tuition assistance or the costs of the programs.
The Navy also did not immediately have figures on current enrollments or the costs.
"We are in the process of reviewing our Tuition Assistance policy. At the heart of review is the need to balance budget shortfalls with our commitment to sailor benefits," said Lt. j. g. Caroline Hutcheson, a Navy spokeswoman.
Adm. Jonathan Greenert, the chief of Naval Operations, is on record in strong support of the tuition assistance programs, but it was unclear whether Greenert's opposition to suspending enrollments would hold sway with plans by Navy Secretary for drastically budget cuts to meet the demands of sequestration.
It was a curt line in a long list of potential Navy cutbacks issued by Mabus earlier this week that gave the first indications that new enrollments for tuition assistance in the Marine Corps would end.
The Marine Corps is spending $47 million in the current fiscal year on tuition assistance for about 29,500 Marines, according to Maj. Shawn Haney, a Marine spokeswoman.
The Army announcement, effective Friday, said "soldiers will no longer be permitted to submit new requests for Tuition Assistance through the GoArmyEd portal. Soldiers currently enrolled and participating in courses approved for tuition assistance are not affected and will be allowed to complete current course(s) enrollment," said a statement from the Army's Human Resources Policy Directorate.
The Army has 201,000 soldiers enrolled in continuing education programs at an annual cost of about $373 million, said Lt. Col. Keith Alexander, an Army spokesman, who also noted the possible broader impact of the suspension of new enrollments.
Alexander said that current enrollees who wish to continue with more courses at the end of a semester will be considered new enrollees and will not be eligible for tuition assistance.
The Army statement said that soldiers who find their enrollments suspended "can continue to access their GI Bill benefits, if applicable (either the Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB) or the Post 9/11 GI Bill), or use another funding source (i.e. grants, scholarships, or Army National Guard Soldiers using state Tuition Assistance)."
"The Army understands the impacts of this decision and will re-assess as the fiscal situation matures," according to the statement.
In its own statement on the suspension of enrollments, the Marine Corps said that tuition assistance "is a discretionary benefit, not an entitlement program."
The statement added that "targeted cuts in benefits help preserve the essential programs that support the health, welfare, and mission readiness of our Marines and Sailors. Marine Corps leadership remains committed to providing opportunities to Marines as they pursue their educational goals."