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Army stops tuition assistance due to federal budget cuts

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The Army’s suspension of tuition assistance could limit local soldiers’ educational options and some area colleges’ budgets.

The decision, which was prompted by the federal budget cuts known as sequestration and went into effect at 5 p.m. Friday, bars soldiers from submitting new tuition assistance requests.

An announcement on www.goarmyed.com said soldiers now enrolled in courses approved for tuition assistance are not affected.

Friday’s announcement noted soldiers can still use their GI Bill benefits to fund their coursework or use other available funding sources such as federal and state grants or scholarships. Army ROTC scholarships are also unaffected by the decision.

The Army’s tuition assistance program, for which all soldiers, including Army Reserve and Army National Guard members, are eligible, pays up to $250 per credit hour, with an annual limit of $4,500.

The announcement followed a similar decision the Marine Corps made Thursday.

Jill M. Pippen, dean of continuing education at Jefferson Community College, said the school’s spring session has 102 students on tuition assistance, taking 686.5 credits valued at more than $100,000.

“That’s a significant amount of money for the college,” she said.

Mrs. Pippen said she was unsure whether the move would alter students’ registration for the eight-week session because classes have not started. However, Pentagon spokesman Paul Prince said Friday afternoon the students would probably be unaffected because they enrolled before the suspension.

Mrs. Pippen said she learned at about 10:30 a.m. Friday the program had suspended online enrollments while in a presentation on Fort Drum.

About one-third of the school’s student body is in the military or has military-affiliated spouses or dependents, Mrs. Pippen said, although she did not identify the method those students used to pay their tuition.

Mrs. Pippen said a more severe impact would be felt if the assistance were suspended for an extended period, possibly affecting classes in the summer or fall. With the school already on a tight budget, she said, JCC could have to consider reducing its course offerings.

“We wouldn’t have the enrollment to support it,” Mrs. Pippen said.

She said she had advised staff members to continue speaking with soldiers about their education plan and see what other kinds of financial aid are available.

The decision could affect students at other area schools. At SUNY Potsdam, a school spokeswoman said 11 students were on Army tuition assistance and 95 students were using GI Bill funding. A SUNY Canton spokesman said the school had 18 students using Army tuition assistance during the 2012-13 school year, with about 115 students using GI Bill money each semester.

Spokesman Michael P. Griffin at Clarkson University, Potsdam, did not have a count of students using Army tuition assistance, calling the total “very few if any.” He said about 40 students use other benefits such as the GI Bill.

St. Lawrence University, Canton, reported it did not have any students using Army tuition assistance or any similar assistance provided by other military branches.

Fort Drum spokeswoman Julie A. Cupernall advised soldiers to check with the post’s education center to learn how the decision will affect their coursework.

The decision also drew negative reactions from congressional representatives.

Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, said in an emailed statement the decision added urgency for lawmakers to address sequestration.

“Tuition assistance for soldiers is a strong tool for recruitment and retention, ensures the Army can fill core competencies and helps soldiers find good-paying jobs when they transition back into civilian life,” he said.

In a statement, Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said he hoped a compromise on sequestration would allow the tuition assistance funding’s restoration.

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