Service members pleased with tuition assistance security after sequestration


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More than 300,000 service members around the country may soon feel more secure about their academic future.

Several branches of the military announced earlier this month they planned to suspend tuition assistance in order to make up for sequestration budget cuts.

But last week, Congress passed a continuing resolution to fund the federal government through fiscal 2013, which included an amendment to prohibit the Department of Defense from suspending tuition assistance. The amendment and continuing resolution are now awaiting President Barack Obama’s signature.

“Every dollar that they invest in me for my education is money that they are getting back, because I’m going to be a better developed thinker for the military,” said UI sophomore Nathan Warner, a Army National Guard service member.

Service members are eligible to take up to $4,500 in tuition assistance each year and no more than $250 per semester hour.

Warner said he is glad tuition assistance is likely to be protected, because without it, paying for school would require more loan assistance.

“It’s not an entitlement, it’s a privilege,” he said. “If they say [cutting tuition assistance] is what they need to do, I’m going to accept that because it’s not my job to complain, it’s my job to do what they tell me to do. We’re not civilians. They tell us how it’s going to be.”

Currently more than 100 student service members are benefiting from tuition assistance at the UI. 

Dennis Arps, a business analyst for GI Bill Services in the UI Office of the Registrar, said those students are encouraged to apply for financial aid through FAFSA to ensure them other options if they were to ever lose tuition assistance.

He also noted it is a good thing Congress passed an amendment to protect tuition assistance.
“[Service members] are making a sacrifice,” he said. ‘They deserve it.”

Maj. Linda Perdue, the education officer for the Iowa Army National Guard, said anywhere from 700 to 1,000 service members for the Iowa Army National Guard benefit from tuition assistance each semester.

Perdue said there has not been any notification to her office yet that the amendment is official but she expects it will be soon.

“I do believe there will be a resolve and I do believe it is an important program because the education of our soldiers is very important,” she said. “It just makes us better for the community. It makes a better soldier.”

However, without tuition assistance service members have other options to them, Perdue said. The State of Iowa offers aid for service members at the state level and students are guaranteed benefits from the G.I. Bill. 

UI junior Dalton Jacobus, an Iowa Army National Guard service member, said if the military needs to cut spending, tuition assistance wasn’t necessarily a bad place for them to start.

“The state has already paid for my school so I take that money and I stick it in my pocket,” he said.

Jacobus said he receives GI Bill benefits, a GI Bill kicker benefit for voluntarily working in infantry, an area of the military that is considered critical, and an enlistment bonus. With benefits from the state on top of his GI Bill benefits, Jacobus said, tuition assistance is excess.

“The fat needs to be trimmed,” he said. “The system is set up right now so you’re putting a lot of excess money straight into your pocket.”

Jacobus said he recognizes that not all states have as much state level aid for service members as Iowa does, and for some students, tuition assistance is more necessary.

“I don’t know any states that are as good to their soldiers as Iowa,” he said. “In other states that tuition assistance is paramount to a soldier getting an education.”

If Obama approves prohibiting tuition assistance from being suspended, the military will have to find other places to cut spending.

Warner said he is concerned cuts will be in critical areas such as training and equipment quality.

“I’m fearful for the future [and] where they’re going to make cuts,” he said. “I’ll leave that up to the people who get paid a lot more money than me. I do think soldiers have earned [the tuition assistance] benefit.”

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