posted May 11, 2020
One of the most significant benefits for members of the U.S. military is Tuition Assistance (TA). Although TA is one of the more well-known military benefits for active-duty service members, there are still some myths and misconceptions about it. If you are a member of the military, make sure that none of the following are preventing you from accessing all of the benefits that you are eligible for.
Myth #1: Tuition Assistance is the Same as the GI Bill®
The first myth about Tuition Assistance is that it’s the same as the GI Bill®. This is not the case. TA is an entirely separate set of programs – one for each branch of the military – that pays for college courses while you are still on active duty. While the GI Bill® provides education assistance to veterans who served at least 90 days in the military, TA is for service members who are still enlisted and are on active duty.
Related: How Does the Forever GI Bill® Work?
Myth #2: You Have to Repay Tuition Assistance
Military Tuition Assistance is not a loan. It is earnings, much like your base pay, that you do not have to repay to the government. Unlike your base pay, however; you don’t have to claim TA as income on your tax return, just like the GI Bill®.
There are some exceptions, though. The Air Force requires individuals to earn a D or better in graduate courses, or a C or better in undergraduate courses, or they must repay the assistance in a lump sum. The Navy requires repayment if you don’t maintain a minimum grade point average or if you receive an incomplete in a class, while the Marines requires repayment for unsatisfactory grades and will withhold further assistance until you may the repayment. All branches of the military require you to repay the funds if you leave the service before finishing the course or if you quit the course before completion for reasons other than illness, military reassignment or requirements of a mission.
Myth #3: Tuition Assistance Only Covers College
TA is designed to help service members access the education and training they need for success, and that’s not always in the form of a college degree. In addition to traditional undergraduate and graduate degrees, TA can be used for vocational and technical schools, as well as distance education and independent study programs. The military does require that all programs be accredited by a Department of Education-approved accrediting body.
Myth #4: Tuition Assistance Will Pay for My Entire Degree
While the GI Bill® offers up to 100% tuition at public universities and up to $23,671 per year for private schools, Tuition Assistance covers up to $250 per credit hour or $4,500 per year. It’s also important to note that TA only covers tuition costs, and it cannot be used to pay for fees, books or materials.
To gain the maximum benefit from your assistance benefit, look for programs that will allow you to take the maximum number of credits and remain within the benefit cap. If you can, take appropriate exams or request a military transcript review before you begin taking courses to determine whether you can earn credit for introductory level or subject specific courses. Getting even a few course requirements waived can get you even closer to earning your degree.
Finally, the Department of Veterans Affairs offers additional support through its Tuition Assistance Top-Up program. If you’re a veteran, and your total college tuition cost equals more than you can receive through TA, the Top-Up program can help cover that difference.
Myth #5: Serving in the Military is the Only Requirement
Although Tuition Assistance is strictly reserved for active-duty service members, military service isn’t the only requirement for accessing these funds. Each branch of the military has its own specific eligibility requirements.
For example, the Army does not allow service members to use TA to earn a second equivalent degree if they use TA for any portion of their first degree, and they must serve for at least 10 years if they want to use TA to earn a master’s degree if they used TA for their bachelor’s. The Marines require individuals to have at least 24 months of active duty before they can apply for TA benefits, while officers in all branches receive service assignments that run parallel to their degree studies. Prospective students can visit their branch’s web portal to determine their eligibility and how to apply.
Tuition assistance can defray a significant portion of college costs, so it’s worth exploring your options to determine how you can make the most of this well-earned benefit.
To learn more about how Columbia Southern University can help you reach your goals and navigate the maze of military benefits, visit ColumbiaSouthern.edu/Military.
Related: What Does it Really Mean to be a Military-Friendly College?
GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). More information about education benefits offered by VA is available at the official U.S. government Web site at www.benefits.va.gov/gibill.