Congresswoman Annie Kuster (NH-02) this week joined a bipartisan group of lawmakers in urging Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to immediately reinstate all Department of Defense tuition assistance programs that have been interrupted due to sequestration. Earlier this month, the Army, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard suspended new enrollment in tuition assistance programs after Congress failed to reach a balanced, bipartisan plan to avoid the automatic spending cuts that took effect on March 1st.
In a letter to Secretary Hagel, the group highlighted the critical role tuition assistance programs play in helping members of our armed services pursue higher education.
"While we understand the Department of Defense must make tough choices in the face of sequestration and current budget cuts, we wholly disagree with the decisions to suspend [tuition assistance programs]," the group wrote in its letter. "As you know, tuition assistance programs provide service members the opportunity to better themselves personally and professionally. Service members can use tuition assistance programs to earn a diploma, gain college credit, and even earn a college degree. Not only do these programs benefit the individual service member, but they also benefit the armed forces as a whole."
Hundreds of thousands of service members depend on tuition assistance programs to help earn diplomas, college credits, or college degrees. In Fiscal Year 2012, over 201,000 soldiers participated in tuition assistance programs. According to recent reports, service members took 870,000 courses and earned 50,500 degrees, diplomas and certificates over the course of last year.
In response to news of the cuts to military tuition assistance programs, Southern New Hampshire University this week offered scholarships to current active-duty students that are equal to one class's tuition.
"Our active duty service members see their education as the key to their successful and eventual transition back into civilian life," said Paul LeBlanc, President of Southern New Hampshire University. "They are sacrificing much on our collective behalf, they are willing to squeeze their studies into already long and arduous days, and the least we can for them is to provide some tuition assistance. This is an ethical and moral question."
Kuster announced today that she cosponsored the Support Higher Education for Service Members Act, which would require the continuation of the military tuition assistance program for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2013. In addition, Kuster today voted for bipartisan legislation that would fully reinstate military tuition assistance.