Soldiers must now have one year of service following graduation from Advanced Individual Training (AIT) to be eligible for tuition assistance (TA).

For officers, this includes one year of service following graduation from the Basic Officer Leader Course. If an officer was prior enlisted, then the officer's AIT as an enlisted Soldier will be used to calculate the one year in-service.

This was one of the TA policy changes that went into effect Jan. 1, and that was spelled out in All Army Activities (ALARACT) Message 317/13.

"This change is new to the Army, but it's not new to the armed forces," said Randy Shears, Fort Sill Education Center guidance counselor. "In the Navy, Sailors have to wait until they have been in-service for two years, which includes their training time before they can use tuition assistance."

Cap remains
The fiscal 2013 $250 cap per semester hour did not change, however, Soldiers now can only receive 16 semester hours of TA-funded courses per year or $4,000. And, even if the total tuition amount is well below the $4,000 cap, only 16 semester hours will be paid.

The old cap was $4,500, which would cover 18 semester hours at $250 per hour, he said.

This change may restrict some of the more industries Soldiers working toward a degree, Shears said. Most classes are worth three semester hours of credit. If a Soldier takes a sixth class worth three credits, or a total of 18 semester hours, they will have to pay the full cost of that class because the TA system is not set up to split the cost beyond the 16th semester hour. Of course, students can take coursework beyond 16 hours at their expense.

Soldiers can use TA for 130 semesters hours for a bachelor's degree, according to the ALARACT.

Economic times
These changes came about because of the economic climate of the federal budget, said Michael Dodds, Fort Sill Education Services officer.

"In (fiscal 2013), the Army spent $335 million in tuition assistance . The Army cannot maintain that level of spending," he said.

The policy changes spreads out dollars evenly while allowing Soldiers to use TA without lowering the semester-hour caps, which was a concern, Dodds said.

Other changes
Soldiers who use TA to fund any portion of an undergraduate degree (associate, bachelor's) will now be required to have 10 years of service before they can use TA to fund a graduate degree, according to the ALACRT.

"Soldiers who are currently pursuing a graduate-level program and who did use TA to fund any portion of their undergraduate degree will still be allowed to use TA during Fiscal Year-14," Dodds said. "But effective Oct. 1 (fiscal 2015), Soldiers will have to have the 10-year service requirement. If they do not they will be blocked from further using TA."

Soldiers with less than 10 years of service will not be "grandfathered" in under the old TA policy even if they are currently using TA to fund a graduate degree.

Soldiers who do not use TA to fund any portion of their undergraduate degree will not be required to have the 10-year service requirement to TA fund a graduate degree.

Soldiers can use TA for 39 semesters hours for a master's degree.

Using TA
For Soldiers who want to apply for TA, Dodds highly recommends that they first meet with an Army education guidance counselor.

"We assess where they are academically, and to help them determine their educational goals and their career goals we always want to link the two, and to stay on course toward degree completion," Dodds said. "Then we give them the steps to set up a GoArmyEd account."

The GoArmyEd portal is what all Soldiers use to enroll in their classes and request tuition assistance, he said.

To be eligible for TA, Soldiers must meet physical fitness test and height and weight standards and not have an adverse action flag, according to the TA policy.

The funding level for TA looks great right now because the fiscal year just started, Dodds said.

For more information about the TA policy or to meet with a guidance counselor, visit the Fort Sill Education Center, Bldg. 4700, fifth floor, or call 580-442-3201 to schedule an appointment. Hours are Mondays through Fridays from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.