By Debbie Gregory.
2013 was a frustrating year for U.S. Marines who wanted to utilize their Tuition Assistance (TA) benefits. In March, the Marine Corps was among the service branches that cancelled the TA program, due to budget cuts. Service members and Veterans groups spoke out, prompting Congress to force the service branches to reinstate TA last April.
Funding still being an issue, as of October, the Marine Corps heightened its restrictions and requirements for the use of TA. The new eligibility restrictions now require that Marines be in service for a minimum of 24 months before using TA. And under the new rules, Marines who are using TA for the first time are limited to just one class. These restrictions were necessary to limit the amount of TA users.
For FY 2013, there were 28,662 Marines enrolled in TA. For the first quarter of the fiscal year, which began October, 2012, there were 13,502 Marines enrolled in TA. There were only 3,341 Marines enrolled for the first quarter of this fiscal year; that is a nearly 75% drop off in enrollment. This drop in use has people concerned with service members’ rights on alert.
But many civilians and service members are misinformed about what TA is. TA is designed to be used solely as a retention tool for service members, allowing them to take courses and obtain degrees in their off time, while still serving, in order to further their military careers. TA is not a right, and is not guaranteed in a service contract. TA is not intended to give service members a head start on their education before using their GI Bill.
On January 18th, the president signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014. While endowing funds to all DOD programs, the decree will specifically provide appropriately $44 million into the Marine Corps’ TA program alone. The passing of this law opens TA availability for Marines who wish to use it. For the first quarter, only $3.5 million was allotted to the Marine Corps for all of its TA students around the world.
Marine Corps officials hope that the guaranteed funding will allow approximately 26,000 Marines to participate in the TA program. TA is vital in training and preparing enlisted Marines and officers for the higher leadership roles that are crucial to the combat effectiveness of the USMC.