Marines Upset by Slashed Tuition Assistance

Marine Corps cuts assistance from $3,500 to $875

By John Schriffen
|  Saturday, Oct 22, 2011  |  Updated 2:59 PM EDT
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The U.S. Marine Corps drastically cut what it will pay for Marines to take classes, and some Marines say that's a big hit to morale.

John Schriffen

The U.S. Marine Corps drastically cut what it will pay for Marines to take classes, and some Marines say that's a big hit to morale.

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The U.S. Marine Corps drastically cut what it will pay for Marines to take classes, and some Marines say that's a big hit to morale.

Three active-duty Marines spoke to News4 on condition of anonymity for fear of getting in trouble with the corps.  They’re upset about a recent change to a tuition assistance program used to further their education while serving the country.

The Department of Defense allows enlisted soldiers of all branches to spend $3,500 a year for their education. But according to the Marine Corps website, starting Oct. 1, the Marine Corps cut that figure to $875, “which would only allow Marines to take one class a year,” a Marine said.

“One of the reasons that I personally joined the Marine Corps was for education,” a Marine said. “Right now, I can tell you off the spot the morale just isn’t high. This really is a big hit for all enlisted ranks.”

This is different from the Montgomery GI Bill, which entitles enlisted soldiers a monthly education stipend after completing the minimum required service.

“The Marine Corps said that they had polled the Marines and that they only attend one class per year. I can tell you right now that personally, I attend four classes per year and am a full-time Marine, so that’s definitely not true, and I don’t know where they go their numbers from.”

“I feel blindsided, definitely feel blindsided because we never got any word of no survey, how it was conducted, how it looks like, when it was sent out, never got an email, phone call, anything.”

These Marines said this new rule will force them to delay their education or dip into their Montgomery GI Bill assistance early -- something they hoped to use to further their education or for their family after getting out of the service.

“Honestly, a lot of Marines are going to start getting out, transferring over to the other services, maybe getting out entirely and getting a civilian job.”

“We feel like we’re being targeted. Why the Marines, when we’re the first to fight, we’re the first to be out there making the ultimate sacrifice, for the country, for our family, for our freedom? It just isn’t fair.”

A spokesman for the Marine Corps responded to News4's requests for comment Saturday afternoon.

"Increased access to educational programs without geographical boundaries has led to a rise in service members using their educational benefits. At the same time, tuition and fees at various institutions have increased in pace with inflation rates throughout the country. These issues combined have created financial conditions that need to be addressed now to preserve the benefit, rather than service members losing it altogether, " Major Stewart Upton wrote in an email.

"Tuition Assistance is a benefit, not an entitlement, and due to budgetary constraints within the Marine Corps, the intent of the TA program has shifted from providing funding for degree attainment to primarily providing first term Marines the opportunity to start their pursuit of their higher educational goals.

"It has become a challenge for the Services to sustain the funding levels in the 2002 Uniform [Tuition Assistance] Policy. In 2002 an undergraduate course enrollment was $276.79 and for graduate work was $461.70. Today, that coursework is $600.40 and $750.00 respectively. Tuition assistance costs totaled $542M in [Fiscal Year] 10."

"We have carefully reviewed the utilization data for the TA program and found that 87% of Marine TA users only took 5 semester hours or less during FY10. Therefore, the additional semester hour restriction in the new policy (5 semester hours) should have a minimum impact on the majority of Marines."

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