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Soldiers advised to seek federal, state aid after loss of tuition support

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FORT DRUM — With the Army’s tuition assistance program suspended due to sequestration, post education officials advised soldiers to be patient and do their homework to find other funding.

“Regardless of where a soldier is in their education plan, we can try to solve their issue and help them complete their story,” said Joseph A. Agresti, education services officer.

The Army cut the funding option on March 8, as did the Marine Corps and Air Force.

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.

According to an economic impact statement released Monday, the post in fiscal year 2012 authorized $911,367 in tuition assistance benefits for 1,517 soldiers to attend local college partners, about $600 per soldier. That total is an increase from the $721,000 authorized in fiscal year 2011 for 525 soldiers, about $1,373.33 per soldier.

To help soldiers through the loss of aid, Mr. Agresti said soldiers should talk to the post’s guidance counselors about their options, and look into options for federal and state aid.

“What we’ve got is a need to get out to soldiers that there are still alternatives in the absence of dollars to pay for college tuition,” Mr. Agresti said.

He said soldiers should fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which will help to determine what money is available to them. He also advised soldiers to seek out funding through the state Tuition Assistance Program.

“I would say, again, the sources for dollars to pay for college are just a little farther down the road than going online from your room at night and clicking into GOARMYED and applying for financial assistance,” Mr. Agresti said.

Though GI Bill benefits are not affected by the suspension of the tuition assistance program, Mr. Agresti advised soldiers against using the benefits while they were still in uniform, adding it was designed for when soldiers leave the military. He also said that activating those benefits took five to ten times longer than receiving other aid money.

Another option Mr. Agresti mentioned was the credit examination program, which offers exams that, if passed, can replace certain general education or elective classes.

In some cases however, he said soldiers will have to be patient and see what happens with the tuition assistance program in the future.

In one sign of the impact of the reduced tuition assistance, two courses of ten offered on post by Jefferson Community College were canceled due to low enrollment.

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