The Department of Defense Tuition Assistance program offers financial aid for what the military calls “voluntary education programs” for those on active duty, National Guard and Reserve members.
Known among the services simply as TA, the Tuition Assistance program can “lessen your financial concerns considerably since it now pays up to 100 percent of tuition expenses for semester hours costing $250 or less” according to the TA official site.
TA is a program that relies on partnerships with institutions of higher learning; these institutions participate in the TA program by meeting VA guidelines and signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the VA to facilitate tuition assistance for those who are eligible to apply for the program.
The Tuition Assistance Partnership Between The DoD And Participating Schools
Defense Department procedures for the TA program include bringing higher learning institutions on board “to sign an MOU conveying the commitments and agreements between the educational institution and DoD” so that the college, boot camp, or training school can start receiving funds.
How The Voluntary Education Partnership Memorandum Of Understanding Works
The MOU is basically a commitment between the institution and the Department of Defense agreeing to the school’s acceptance of military tuition assistance (TA) program funds “in exchange for education services.”
The types of classroom experience available include what the DoD describes as “all modalities” including distance education, correspondence courses, physical class attendance, and more. The MOU, at the time of this writing, “includes high school programs, academic skills programs, and adult education programs” for both service members and eligible dependents.
Requirements For Participating Colleges
Any learning facility that wishes to sign the DoD MOU and start accepting military students and TA funds must meet specific DoD requirements including accreditation.
The Defense Department requires participating institutions to be accredited by a national or regional accrediting agency” as recognized by the DoD. The school must also be approved for VA funding, and federal financial aid certification is required.
School policies must not create conflicts between the MOU and existing regulations or guidelines. The DoD official site for the TA program states that schools are required to comply with the memorandum as well as any service-specific requirements. They must also ensure there are no conflicts with federal law including aspects of Title10 of the United States Code such as DoD Directive 1322.08E, “Voluntary Education Programs for Military Personnel.”
Participating institutions are also required to take part in third-party assessment procedures when required. DoD policy states any school can be selected if there are “reports of non-compliance with the DoD Voluntary Education Partnership MOU, complaint(s) received, or negative information received from other government agencies and regulators.”
Signing Up A College For The DoD TA Program
The official Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU) template and related forms are available at the DoD official site for the program.
You can also view a list of current participating institutions and learn more about how to sign up as either a student or a participating institution. Institutions that meet the requirements and are willing to participate under the terms of the DoD MOU can begin the process by going to the link above and reviewing the MOU and following the instructions for submission.
Why The DoD Administers The TA Program
The official position of the Department of Defense on military education includes this statement from the DoD TA official site: “Providing access to quality postsecondary education opportunities is a strategic investment that enhances the U.S. Service member’s ability to support mission accomplishment and successfully return to civilian life.”
The DoD also mentions life-long learning as a goal and notes that offering post-secondary college education programs enhances the quality of life for service members and their families. “This helps strengthen the Nation by producing a well-educated citizenry and ensures the availability of a significant quality-of-life asset that enhances recruitment and retention efforts in an all-volunteer force,” according to the DoD.
What DoD Tuition Assistance Covers
Tuition Assistance under this program must be used for class programs (technical or academic) at a participating institution that has been accredited by the Department of Education and approved by the DoD.
Tuition Assistance funds are provided by the individual branch of service and paid directly to the school.
There’s one catch: the Department of Defense warns new applicants to first “check with an education counselor for the specifics involving TA by visiting their local installation education office or by going online to a virtual education center,” according to the federal government. Tuition Assistance may be used for classes and programs including, but not necessarily limited to, the following:
- Undergraduate programs
- Graduate programs
- Independent study
- Distance-learning programs
- Vocational/technical programs
Specifically, Tuition Assistance is used to pay for tuition and associated fees for a specific course. All fees covered by TA “must directly relate to the specific course enrollment of the service member.”
What TA Will Not Pay For
The TA program does not pay for books or related materials for your courses. Flight training fees are not covered, nor are continuing education units. You cannot take the same course twice using TA.
Furthermore, under the requirements of the federal government, the student is required to reimburse any TA funds if you leave military service before the class ends if you quit the class or classes for reasons other than mission requirements, illness, or military transfer.
You must also repay TA funds if you fail to pass the class or classes.
Who Is Eligible To Use The TA Program
Each branch of the military including the Army, Navy, Air Force, Space Force, Coast Guard, and Marine Corps provides financial assistance for off-duty education programs.
These voluntary higher education classes are paid for using TA when the military member applies if the service member has enough retainability, which means they have enough time left in their current enlistment to complete the classes.
Applicants who are re-enlisting should discuss how to proceed with a school counselor–the service member may need to provide proof of the commitment to re-enlist as a condition of program approval depending on circumstances.
Members of the National Guard and Reserve may apply for TA under this program too, “based on their service eligibility” according to the DoD.
Using The TA Program Does Not Affect Your VA Education Benefits
Tuition Assistance is not a VA program. It is administered by the Department of Defense via each individual branch of the military’s individual program. Your GI Bill benefits are not reduced or otherwise affected by using TA.
How TA Differs From The GI Bill
The GI Bill can be used at any time once the benefit is available to you. It can be used on active duty, or after you retire or separate from military service. Tuition Assistance can only be used while you serve and cannot be used once you retire or separate.
Some want to know if they can use both TA and the GI Bill concurrently for education while still on duty. The short answer is yes. Those who have not retired or separated can use both the GI Bill and TA at the same time. DoD publications recommend using the Post 9/11 GI Bill to pay for education costs TA does not cover.
Other Ways To Pay After Using TA
Aside from GI Bill resources, you may be able to pay for certain expenses not covered by TA by applying for a Pell Grant, Stafford Loan, or even a Supplemental Educational Opportunity grant. You can complete a FAFSA form to learn what options may be open to you based on income, college experience, specific need, etc.
Information For Officers Using TA
As mentioned above, service members are required to have enough time left in their service commitment to finish the class or classes they sign up for; in cases where officers are using TA, the Department of Defense states, “After the completion of a course, an officer using TA must fulfill a service obligation that runs parallel with – not in addition to – any existing service obligation.”
TA Coverage Amounts
At the time of this writing, the Tuition Assistance Program funds as much as 100% of the cost of college tuition and certain fees up to $250 per semester credit hour or $166 per quarter credit hour, or up to $4,500 per fiscal year Oct. 1 through Sept. 30.
What TA Is Not
This Tuition Assistance program is NOT part of the GI Bill, nor is it administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Each branch of military service including the Coast Guard, National Guard, and Reserve has its own TA program.
How To Sign Up For Tuition Assistance
Each branch of the military has its own program, procedures, and deadlines. Contact your unit orderly room, First Sergeant or First Individual, Command Sergeant Major, Or Senior Chief to get information on how to take advantage of your education benefits while on duty including Tuition Assistance. You can also contact a Base Education Center.
Be prepared–you may be required to submit an education plan as part of your application package, and TA orientation sessions may also be required. Each branch of military service may have its own retainability standards.
It is not safe to assume that you meet the requirements if you have transferred from one branch of service to another and want to use TA after the move. Your enrollment must be approved by your branch of service’s education center before you can safely enroll.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News
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