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DoD tightens tuition assistance rules

Jul. 25, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  

Force-wide changes to the military’s Tuition Assistance program may require troops to pay back their TA money if they perform poorly in class.

Service members taking undergraduate courses will have to achieve a grade of C or higher, and those taking graduate-level classes must obtain a grade of B or higher, or else they will be subject to “recoupment” and may have to pay out-of-pocket cash retroactively for the class’s costs, according to an internal policy change that Defense Department officials approved July 7 but did not publicly announce.

Service members who receive a grade of “I” for incomplete will have to repay their TA money if they fail to complete the class and convert the “I” into a satisfactory grade.

The TA program also will no longer cover laboratory fees or other fees that come on top of tuition, according to the new rules. Service members may have to pay out-of-pocket cash for those fees.

“Educational institutions that bundle tuition, fees, or books into a consolidated cost must detail the charges of fees and books separately for Service members participating in the TA program,” according to the updated DoD Instruction outlining the changes.

“Fees include any charge not directly related to course instruction, including but not limited to costs associated with room, board, distance learning, equipment, supplies, books/materials, exams, insurance, parking, transportation, admissions, registration, or fines,” according to the instruction.

DoD’s Tuition Assistance costs have soared in recent years as the benefit became more generous, school costs increased and more service members sought to participate. But now, as the Pentagon is facing long-term budget cuts, officials are scaling back the level of payments and revising some eligibility rules.

A Pentagon spokesman, Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen, said the new policy's aim is to improve student performance and exceptions will be granted on an individual basis.

"Setting stricter minimum grade requirement standards for coursework when a service member is using TA funds is part of an over arching strategy to improve military student success,” Christensen said Friday.

"Tuition dollars and military student time is both limited and valuable so we want them to maintain focus and understanding expectation is critical.

"Military students are not traditional nor are they full-time students given their military duties and responsibilities. Therefore, on a case-by-case basis waivers to the Department's policy may be authorized for service members who fail to meet the minimum grade requirements standards of volunteer education programs with extenuating circumstances, such as deployments, changed duty schedules and other circumstances outside their control."

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