Military Tuition Assistance (TA)
Why should you consider using a military Tuition Assistance (TA) program instead of your GI Bill benefits? TA is offered to those who are on active duty and it’s generally thought of as a “replacement” GI Bill of sorts that helps you save your actual GI Bill for later.
Should you save those GI Bill options? That may seem like a very simple question for some–the most obvious answer is that it’s best to use TA if you have the option while still serving. There are some issues to consider if you are tempted to the GI Bill on active duty in general.
One good example? The Post 9/11 GI Bill has a housing stipend that is not offered to those who serve on active duty since it’s assumed that those still serving are already paid a housing allowance. You may do well to save your GI Bill benefit for when you can ALSO draw the housing allowance. Military TA makes that possible.
Those who don’t have the option to use a military tuition assistance program turn to their GI Bill benefits, but when you are still serving on active duty (and meet the program requirements) there’s no need to tap into the GI Bill. There are some important things to know about using TA, as we’ll explore below:
How to Use the Military Tuition Assistance Program
You can use military tuition assistance in a variety of ways, but typically you must be degree or credential-seeking. You can use military tuition assistance to pay for:
- Vocational programs
- Technical programs
- Undergraduate programs
- Graduate programs
- Independent study
- Distance-learning programs
In general, the program funds up to 100% of your tuition and fees up to a cap which in 2022 was listed as follows:
- Funding may not exceed $250 per semester credit hour or $166 per quarter credit hour;
- Funding may not exceed $4,500 per fiscal year, Oct. 1 through Sept. 30.
Tuition assistance is designed to cover tuition, plus course-specific fees such as a lab fee or online course fee. Tuition assistance DOES NOT PAY FOR:
- Books and course materials
- Flight training fees
- Repeating a course
- Continuing education units (CEUs)
Military TA Top-Up
Some servicemembers may have the option to “top up” their military tuition assistance using the Post 9/11 GI Bill or the Montgomery GI Bill. Topping up is necessary for some who want to keep their out-of-pocket costs to an absolute minimum but the assistance won’t cover the entire tuition cost. Using the GI Bill to pay the difference meets that goal, but you can only apply for top up AFTER you are approved for TA.
How To Apply For Military Tuition Assistance
Each branch of the military has its own applications, procedures, and expectations. You’ll need to apply via your base education office, your command support staff where applicable, or your branch of service’s online portal:
Space Force tuition assistance programs are administered by the U.S. Air Force. To be eligible for military tuition assistance, the following requirements apply:
Enlisted service members must have enough time left in their service commitment to complete the courses being funded. If you are due to retire or separate before the courses end you may be denied funds.
Officers who qualify for tuition assistance must ”fulfill a service obligation that runs parallel with – not in addition to – any existing service obligation” according to the DoD.
As part of the application process, troops may be required to attend a tuition assistance orientation seminar and/or submit an education plan or college “education plan” showing the student’s “map” toward a degree.
Remember that you’ll need to check that your selected school is accredited by an acceptable authority–you can research your school’s accreditation status at the official site of the U.S. Department of Education.
What To Know About Military Tuition Assistance
You can’t use this tuition assistance for just any higher learning opportunity. The school or institution should be accredited by an agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. When you register for one of these programs, the school is paid directly by the military, the funds do not go to you first.
Guidance to troops from the federal government includes a warning to first discuss tuition assistance options with an education counselor at your base or installation education office. You must be approved for assistance before you can enroll in the classes.
You may be required to repay any tuition assistance provided under your military branch of service if any of the following apply:
- You quit the military before the course ends;
- You drop the course for reasons not including mission requirements, reassignment or deployment, or personal illness;
- You get a failing grade in the course funded by military tuition assistance.
Submitting an education plan (see above) makes more sense when you realize that it is possible to mistakenly sign up for classes you can’t truly finish if you are taking them in the local area and you have a permanent change of station move date set before those classes end.
You would likely not be approved for military TA in such cases unless you could show that you have the ability to finish the classes before your PCS move or in spite of it. Such issues may be dealt with on a case-by-case basis and your experience may vary.
Quitting or dropping a class paid for with TA requires an explanation in most cases; it’s a bad idea to assume that because your classwork was interfered with because of mission requirements that your “protected” status (against having to repay the TA) is automatic. In most instances, an explanation will be required.
In certain cases, if you realize you must drop a course paid for with military tuition assistance, you may be required to submit a formal letter explaining the reasons why you must drop the course. Your branch of service may or may not require that letter to be signed by your Squadron Commander.
You cannot use military tuition assistance to take classes that are in a “lower” status than yours. If you already have an Associate’s Degree, for example, you cannot take classes at that level. The same is true if you are already in possession of a Bachelor’s Degree; the coursework you take must be applicable toward a degree higher than the one you currently have.
In cases where military duty interfered with your ability to take the classes, you may be able to avoid having to repay the tuition assistance but you will be required to submit a request for a “waiver of reimbursement”.