Approximately 10 percent more soldiers used tuition assistance benefits in fiscal 2020 to take college courses than in the previous year, according to Army officials.
The increase, they say, is likely due to soldiers deciding to pursue educational opportunities while following stay-at-home orders during the coronavirus pandemic. Another contributing factor is that, in 2018, the Army waived wait times that previously limited when soldiers could start using TA funds after completing initial military training.
“We attribute some of [this year’s] increase to the continuing impact of the policy change, but much of it is likely a result of COVID-19,” said Hank Minitrez, a spokesman for the Army secretary for manpower and reserve affairs.
By early September, a total of 100,893 soldiers from all components — active, National Guard and reserve — used tuition assistance for the current fiscal year.
“We expect to see at least a small increase in FY21," Minitrez said in an email. “The Army encourages our soldiers to seek self-improvement, as their betterment strengthens the force.”
Eligible soldiers can use $4,000 — up to 16 semester hours per fiscal year — to finance college courses from accredited colleges and universities.
Other services have also experienced a rise in the use of TA funds. The Air Force ran through its budget in August and had to find more money to meet airmen’s needs, but it also implemented caps.
Previously, airmen could receive $4,500 annually, but the service has limited the benefit to $3,750 for this coming year.
The Navy also instituted some changes after funds ran out for the sea service in 2019. Starting in 2020, officers and enlisted alike were barred from using TA in their first two years of active duty, and those eligible are limited to $3,000 in tuition assistance annually.
Minitrez said there have not been any policy changes to the Army’s TA funds since 2018. That’s when the service removed the rule requiring a delay in the use of TA funds for one year from the time enlisted troops completed advanced individual training, or the initial basic officer leader course for officers.
In 2018, the Army also waived a rule that required troops who used TA funds to earn a bachelor’s degree to wait 10 years before using the benefit toward a master’s.