Tuition assistance available in face of Air Force suspension

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany -- The U.S. Air Force suspended military tuition assistance March 11 due to ongoing Defense Department budget cuts.

As of now, the branch will no longer accept any new financial-aid requests from Airmen who need help paying for college.

"All is not lost here, and how (Airmen) approach this is important," said Chief Master Sgt. Matthew Grengs, 52nd Fighter Wing command chief. "They have a choice to let this derail their educational goals or to become even more determined to meet their goals despite increased difficulty."

Airmen who are currently enrolled in college and already have approved tuition assistance remain unaffected and will receive their financial aid. Air Force senior leaders encourage all others to seek out alternative aids, such as grants, applicable G.I. Bill benefits, scholarships or state tuition assistance. Direct testing for college credits using programs like CLEP and DANTES is available for free as well.

"Believe me, this was a tough decision, because our Air Force truly values education," said Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James Cody about the challenges Airmen may now face. "We remain as committed as ever to ensuring Airmen have the opportunity and means to pursue educational goals."

There is no date as to how long the suspension will be in place, but in the meantime, Spangdahlem Airmen can visit the base education office to speak with an education counselor.

"Everybody's situation is different," said Cedric O. Rodgers, 52nd Force Support chief of education and training. "We can offer suggestions for the way forward in the mean time -- that's what we're here for. This is not the end; see which alternative best fits your situation now and use it in the time before we get tuition assistance back.

"We're here to support every Saber out there; just come see us," he said.

Rodgers suggested Airmen research their state's education benefits for veterans. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs also has its own procedures in financial-aid plans. The G.I. Bill's benefits are available, but the resource is finite. Both the Montgomery and post 9/11 bills provide aid for a specific amount of time, usually 36 months, before running out.

"Research the G.I. Bills to be absolutely sure that you want to use these benefits now," he cautioned.

Julie Williams, a senior field representative from University of Maryland University College, suggested Airmen research available grants from the U.S. Department of Education's Free Application for Federal Student Aid program. FAFSA is a need-based financial aid process where the program evaluates the financial need of applicants. The process is in-depth and includes many factors which influence eligibility.

"Even if you think you may not be eligible, do it," she said. "They take a lot into consideration when awarding the aid."

She said Airmen may also contact the financial-aid office at the university to talk about partial payment plans. Some universities include payment options to defer the burden of an entire enrollment cost.

"We're still looking at the impacts for (next year) and will do our best to have TA reinstated, although we'll likely need to review the eligibility requirements to ensure sustainability," Cody said. "We owe you more information on this and will provide details as soon as we can."

The Air Force portal's virtual education center is planning to update their site regularly with information pertaining to the suspension. More information about FAFSA is available at http://www.fafsa.ed.gov. Visit http://www.va.gov for information about the G.I. Bills. The Spangdahlem's education office can be contacted at DSN 452-6063 or 06565-61-6063.