Tuition assistance programs that aid hundreds of thousands of servicemembers in gaining college educations will be restored quickly with renewed funding from Congress, Defense Department officials said Wednesday.
George Little, the Pentagon's chief spokesman, said DoD intends to implement the programs in the way they were before the suspension of new enrollments was ordered earlier this month to meet the cost-cutting demands of the legislative process known as sequester.
An amendment attached to the continuing resolution passed by Congress last week and signed by President Obama Tuesday specifically directed DOD to restore the tuition programs and "We will comply with the law," Little said.
The Coast Guard was the first of the services to state that the suspensions were being lifted. "It's going to happen, it's being re-instated," Senior Chief Dan Tremper, a Coast Guard spokesman, said of the education aid.
About 10,000 of the 42,000 active duty Coast Guard personnel usually take advantage of the school aid, and about 7,000 have enrolled this year, Tremper said.
The Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps suspended new enrollments earlier this month and advised personnel currently enrolled that they could not sign up for future courses. The Navy did not take action but did consider making sailors pay for about 25 percent of their education benefits.
Before Congress acted last week, Vice Adm. Scott Van Buskirk, the chief of Naval Personnel, noted that the Navy had been able to avoid the tuition cuts adopted by the other services.
"We remain the only service that's continuing tuition assistance, and I think that's a testimony to how valuable we think the program is, and that we think that investment makes sense as we go forward," Van Buskirk said at an all-hands meeting at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story near Norfok, Va., the Virginia Pilot reported.
The Army currently has 201,000 personnel receiving tuition assistance at an annual cost of $373 million and the Marines have 29,000 enrolled at an annual cost of $47 million.
Cuts to tuition assistance were no longer on the table under the amendment to the continuing resolution that was sponsored by Sens. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), Little said.
The current programs provide about $250 per credit hour with a ceiling of $4,500 annually for servicemembers using their off-duty time to pursue vocational courses or classes toward an associate, bachelor, masters or doctoral degree.
"I don't anticipate we'll be making any reductions," Little said, referring to the $10 billion in additional funding for DOD included in the continuing resolution.
With the additional funding, DOD is also looking at several options that could mitigate the impacts of the 22 furlough days that are in play for all 800,000 DOD civilian personnel as a result of the sequester.
"We're trying to figure out how to allocate that $10 billion," Little said. "We're sorting out the options on furloughs."
Little said exemptions from the furloughs were being considered, possibly for teachers at DOD schools, but he stressed that exemptions were among the factors "that are being sorted through right now" and no decisions had been made.
DOD had intended to send out notices to all personnel last week that furloughs were going to take place and would begin in late April, but the notices were delayed for two weeks after Congress passed the continuing resolution.