The Army Reserve ran out of money to cover tuition for its soldiers and is scrambling to reallocate money ahead of the fall semester, which starts within two weeks at many schools.
The Reserve allocated $20 million for tuition assistance this year, but it lowballed demand for college money and ended up needing a total of $40 million to make ends meet, one source with direct knowledge of the situation told Military.com. It's unclear how the service so dramatically misforecast how much money it needed for tuition benefits this year.
But the issue with the Reserve tuition is part of a growing trend for the Army. Education benefits are a vital recruiting tool, often considered sacrosanct. On top of that, noncommissioned officers are increasingly expected to have college degrees. Yet the Army's delivery of those benefits has been hit or miss recently.
While much of the needed funding has been reallocated, as of Wednesday afternoon, soldiers trying to schedule classes through the Army's online scholarship system were still being told tuition funds had been exhausted -- meaning soldiers were at risk of missing out on the fall semester.
The scholarship covers up to $250 per credit hour, or up to $4,500 per academic year. The benefit is separate from the GI Bill, which demands long stretches of active-duty service to earn. That has become more difficult for part-time soldiers as deployments abroad become less common and the Pentagon shifts from the Global War on Terrorism era.
The halt in payments for Reserve students seemingly came as a surprise, with no service-wide email or social media warning from the service component or its senior leadership. It was unclear Wednesday whether key staff overseeing those benefits were even aware that soldiers were encountering problems.
"It's really surprising that this would be thrust upon me out of the blue, no warning," a Reserve soldier told Military.com on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the press. "This shouldn't have happened in the first place. It's a huge wrench in my life plan. I don't know what I'm going to do."
That soldier is only a few classes from graduating and would have to pay $3,000 out of pocket to finish. Their semester starts in two weeks, and the classes they need won't be offered again until fall 2024, after they're scheduled to leave the service. In at least one situation, a soldier's request to use their scholarship was initially approved but was later rescinded.
The news comes only a month after the Army National Guard halted payments to the Student Loan Repayment Program, or SLRP. The service component is at least two years behind paying off student debt accrued by its troops.
Meanwhile, the Army is still catching up on paying back students and schools who were not compensated by the service due to its faulty launch of Army IgnitED, its online tool for setting up service scholarships that was so buggy soldiers had to pay for school out of pocket.
The issue with the service paying the bills for students got so bad, the University of New Mexico stopped accepting provisional Army tuition payments.
-- Steve Beynon can be reached at Steve.Beynon@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StevenBeynon.