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Sequester Watch: Army and Marines Suspend Tuition Assistance Programs

The Army announced on Friday that it had suspended new requests in its Tuition Assistance Program, joining the Marine Corps in halting the program due to significant cuts in federal spending that took effect last week.

The Marine Corps, which made its announcement on March 2, and the Army said they would not accept new enrollments in their Tuition Assistance Programs, which provide financial support for active-duty troops who are attending high-school-completion courses and certificate programs or working toward college degrees. Under the programs, participants can receive up to $4,500 per fiscal year.

The two other main arms of the U.S. military—the Air Force and the Navy—have not yet announced whether they will follow suit in their Tuition Assistance Programs.

Marine Corps officials said early on that the spending cuts, carried out under a process called sequestration, would have major consequences, and that the Tuition Assistance Program was likely to be cut. As a result of sequestration, the Army’s budget was reduced by $12-billion and the Marine Corps took a $1.4-billion cut.

James F. Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps, warned in a written statement last month that “less critical programs,” like the Tuition Assistance Program, would be cut or eliminated as a result of sequestration.

Michael Dakduk, a Marine Corps veteran who is executive director of Student Veterans of America, said in a written statement that he was “disappointed” to hear the Marine Corps had cut a program that he benefited from while on active duty.

“This is especially troubling given the number of Marines expected to leave active service in the coming years and the incredible value placed on higher education in today’s job market,” he said.

A statement posted on GoArmyEd.com encourages soldiers to seek financial assistance from other military benefits, such as the GI Bill, and says that the Army “continues to value education as a force multiplier.”

“Leaders at all levels encourage soldiers to take advantage of all educational opportunities, which make them more proficient at their military jobs and set them up for success when transitioning to civilian life,” the statement reads.

Higher education’s for-profit sector may be hit especially hard as a result of the program suspensions because of the colleges’ vigorous recruitment of members of the armed forces and veterans. For-profit colleges received more than half of the $563-million in Department of Defense tuition assistance paid to active-duty service members in the 2011 fiscal year, said a report last year by the Senate education committee.

At one for-profit college company, American Public Education Inc., funds from Tuition Assistance Programs accounted for nearly 40 percent of net course enrollments, according to a report by BMO Capital Markets.

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