Brass Benefitted from Education Assistance – Now Pulling the Ladder Up After Themselves

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk military tuition assistance at riskSenior leaders at all four services would love to get rid of tuition assistance. In fact, they tried to get rid of TA last spring. Tuition Assistance is the benefit that provides servicemembers with money to attend college or grad school courses designed – in theory – to further their professional development.  

The Sergeant Major of the Army, Raymond Chandler, has publicly questioned the value of servicemembers earning degrees while on active duty. Regarding one soldier who had nearly completed a masters’ degree while serving, Chandler said, according to reporting from Military Times, “It’s commendable that he’s been able to do this, but what has this soldier been doing for the Army?”

You know these leaders: These are the ones who already got their bachelors and masters degrees, and who already got promoted to flag rank or or E-9 or senior GS level. Many of them got their masters degrees and in some cases, PhDs, while serving. For example, General David Petraeus received his Masters of Public Administration from the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University in 1985 as did several of the colonels assigned to him in Iraq as a division commander in 2003. General Ray Odierno, the current Chief of Staff of the Army, received a Masters in Nuclear Effects Engineering from North Carolina State after being commissioned out of West Point. General Martin Dempsey, the current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, somehow completed a PhD in Literature from Duke University. 

The late General Norman Schwartzkopf was paid to attend graduate school for two years, mid-career, at the pricey University of Southern California, where he earned a masters degree in aerospace and mechanical engineering on the Army’s dime. 

These are also the ones who, having made civilian education a factor in promotion, are looking to pull the ladder up after them. 

Nevertheless, the fiscal challenges confronting the DoD and the nation are real and significant – and benefits of all kinds are on the chopping block. Tuition Assistance is no exception. 

Most services already tried to eliminate TA dollars last fall. Congress blocked their efforts. But efforts to significantly restrict the benefit are already occurring.

The Army has not released any guidance as to what will happen to Tuition Assistance for its soldiers in the event of a government shutdown, though prudence indicates that soldiers and schools should not count on receiving that money at least until a new budget or appropriation is approved by Congress and signed by the President. In the meantime, the Army requires requests to be initiated not later than seven days after enrollment. It also set a deadline of midnight on 23 September for new requests if they were to be approved prior to the scheduled government shutdown on 1 October. 

The Navy has not issued any guidance for their sailors as of yet. The Air Force is continuing the program, but cutting it significantly in 2014. And with less than a week before the new fiscal year, Tuition Assistance for the Marine Corps is still undefined.

Meanwhile, while October paychecks for troops at risk, the President is pushing to send a third of a billion dollars to Syria.


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