Beginning next year, the U.S. Army will place new restrictions on its Tuition Assistance program to ensure officers and enlisted personnel are focusing more on soldiering than higher education.
Soldiers will have to wait one year after completing initial-entry training before they can participate in the TA program.
Also, soldiers who use TA money to complete a four-year baccalaureate degree will have to wait 10 years before using TA again to pursue a post-graduate degree.
The changes will likely affect approximately 40,000 soldiers based on current program participation rates, Army officials estimate.
The Army’s 2013 TA policy capped semester hours at 130 for a baccalaureate degree and 39 semester hours for a master's degree. This cap will remain in effect for 2014, said Brig. Gen. David. K. MacEwen, adjutant general of the Army’s Human Resources Command in Fort Knox, Ky.
A "comprehensive review" of the program showed that it had veered off track from the initial intent of providing for soldiers a part-time, off-duty way to continue their education, MacEwen said.
"We just kind of lost control over it in the last few years ... so we are really trying to get some discipline into the program," MacEwen said. "What we found was we had some soldiers who were using it as almost a full-time thing."
About 4,000 active, 3,000 Army National Guard and 1,200 Army Reserve have used TA money before serving one year in the Army after their initial-entry training, Army officials maintain.
"We wanted young soldiers to understand the Army and ensure they're in good standing" before starting TA, so the one-year wait after IET will be implemented Jan. 1.
The new rules for the TA will also offer soldiers incentive to stay in the Army longer, MacEwen said.
"If TA paid for a four-year degree and a soldier wants a post-baccalaureate degree, we want them to wait until they reach the 10-year mark," said MacEwen, explaining that the Army considers soldiers "careerists" after that point.
Soldiers who have earned a BA degree without using TA, however, do not need to wait 10 years to use TA for a post-baccalaureate degree.
Soldiers who have been flagged for adverse action or failure of the Army physical fitness test or weight standards will not be able to use TA, a change that went into effect in June.
Some of the changes to TA for next year are linked to the "fiscally-constrained environment," such as cuts under sequestration, said Pamela L. Raymer, director of the Army’s Continuing Education System. Nevertheless, the changes reflect the Army's effort to "maximize education support to Soldiers" with funding that's available, she said in an Army press release.
Soldiers can take up to 16 semester hours per fiscal year and use up to $250 per semester hour. This a change of the current policy, since soldiers were allowed to take up to 18 semester hours per fiscal year, Army officials said.
In fiscal year 2013, active duty soldiers took an average of 2.71 courses, Guard soldiers took an average of 3.58 courses, and Reserve soldiers took an average of 3.40 courses. The average cost per course in fiscal year 2013 was $618 for the active force, $571 for the National Guard and $572 for the Army Reserve.
The coursework funded through TA must be from the soldier's approved degree plan in GoArmyEd, a plan soldiers develop with their education counselor and their home school, Army officials said.
Soldiers still cannot use TA for their "first professional degree." Such degrees include Ph.D, MD and JD. The Department of Education categorizes these degrees as "first-professional" degrees. Army has fully-funded education programs that support these degree programs, Army officials said.
Soldiers may also continue using TA for non-degree language courses published on the Defense Department's Strategic Language List as "immediate investment" or "emerging" languages. Middle Eastern languages fall into this category. TA cannot be used for "enduring languages" such as Russian.
"There are some people that are not happy with us taking a look at the system and making sure that it is right," MacEwen said. "We are just trying to ensure that everyone has a chance to get life-long learning."