Federal tuition assistance suspension: who will be affected?

Story by Sgt. Adam Fischman, Illinois National Guard Public Affairs

SPRINGFIELD, IL (03/20/2013)(readMedia)-- Attention and concern has been raised over the suspension of federal tuition assistance (FTA), which became effective March 8.

Although the FTA suspension will adversely affect some Soldiers, of more than 10,000 Illinois Guardsmen, on average, only approximately 200-250 Soldiers apply for FTA each year.

"No other benefits have been affected by this", said Maj. Mark Bermel of Springfield, the Education Services officer for the Illinois Army National Guard. "Only federal tuition assistance has been suspended and the impact it has to our organization as a whole is minimal."

The majority of Illinois Guardsmen rely on state grants to fund their education at state-supported colleges or universities, said Bermel. Benefits still available to Illinois Guardsmen include the G.I. Bill chapters 1606, 1607, 30, 33 and post 9/11 benefits, the Illinois National Guard Grant, the Illinois Veterans Grant and Kicker incentives.

Though the suspension of FTA will have a low impact on most Guardsmen attending school, it will affect some.

Those affected by this are Guardsmen who attend a non-state supported school, such as a private school or non-state supported online program, said Bermel. Those Guardsmen attending non-state funded schools are ineligible to use their Guard grant and therefore rely more on FTA, he said. Additionally, Illinois Guardsmen who reside out of state who rely on FTA to fund an out of state institution would also be affected, he added.

Although some Guardsmen use FTA, Bermel said its primary consumption is typically among active component Soldiers in-between their time of enlistment and eligibility to use their active duty G.I. Bill benefits, or reserve forces who do not have access to the same state benefits such as the Illinois National Guard Grant or the Illinois Veterans Grant.

"Guardsmen have actively used their Guard grant to fulfill their educational goals and those who are affected by the suspension of FTA should consider looking into this as an option to continue their education and seek out courses that will transfer back to their institution of choice when FTA is available again," said Bermel.

The Guard grant has no cap, meaning it will cover full tuition at any state-supported college or university, whereas FTA only pays $250 per semester hour with a maximum of $4,500 per fiscal year.

"We're not dependant at all on FTA. It is a very small portion of the benefits the Illinois National Guard offers Soldiers," said Bermel. "It's easy to have a knee-jerk reaction when news of educational benefits has been suspended. However, it is only one aspect of educational benefits that is being suspended, and luckily it won't affect the majority of Illinois National Guard students."

For more information about Illinois National Guard education benefits visit http://www.il.ngb.army.mil/departments/education.aspx.