The Air Force plans to begin repaying up to $65,000 in student loan debt to attract more enlisted members once it finalizes the details of the program in the coming days.
The Air Force's loan repayment program will be a "critical benefit," the recruiting service's commander, Maj. Gen. Ed Thomas, told reporters Wednesday at the Air & Space Forces Association Warfare Conference in Aurora, Colorado.
The loan repayments will be on top of other education benefits, "so we believe this will be a very attractive option that will ... increase our applicant pool of people willing to come serve," Thomas said.
The Army already repays up to $65,000 for "highly qualified" enlisted applicants, and the Navy matches that and may tack on an additional $50,000 enlistment bonus. The National Guard may repay up to $50,000 in student loan debt.
The active-duty Air Force and Air Force Reserve will both offer loan repayments but will differ in certain aspects of their programs.
The Reserve already repays a portion of student debt for certain enlistees, while the active-duty Air Force will begin its version of the program in the coming days, a spokesperson for the Air Force Recruiting Service told Military.com.
Some of the details of the Air Force's new active-duty program:
- It's only for first-time enlistments.
- Recruits aren't limited by their Air Force specialty code.
- Recruits can get both the loan repayment and an enlistment bonus for the same enlistment.
- Repayment will be available until the program's funding runs out.
Details of the Air Force Reserve's existing program:
- It's capped at $20,000, paying $3,500 a year over a six-year enlistment.
- It's for both new recruits and prior-service airmen, but those who reenlist and are eligible for another incentive can't get the student loan repayment.
- It's only for "critical" career fields listed in the Air Force Reserve Officer and Enlisted Bonus Incentive Guide.
- It has no funding limit.
Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said at the conference that the Air Force will likely miss its recruiting goals for the year.
Thomas said declining familiarity with the military on the part of many Americans is one of the major recruiting "headwinds ... that we're going to have to come to grips with as a nation."
Amanda Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.