Tuition assistance, or TA, is a great benefit of military service and over 100,000 service members use the program each year. But funding is not unlimited and can change in the middle of the fiscal year, so it’s common to have questions about how it works. In his 100 Day Message, Secretary of the Navy Kenneth Braithwaite said, “Questions about educational benefits, particularly Tuition Assistance, are the most common queries I get.”
So let’s answer those questions!
How TA works
While each service has control over their budgets and rules, the programs must fall within the DOD rules. These include credit hour limits of $250 per semester hour or $166.66 per quarter hour. TA can only cover tuition, not any fees or other costs of an educational program.
TA provides financial assistance for voluntary, off-duty educational pursuits including associate, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees, certain certifications, and high school diplomas or equivalency certificates. TA is not authorized for education beyond a master’s degree, and you can’t use TA at an educational level that is equal to or below any degree that you have already completed.
Courses may be in a physical classroom or through distance learning, also known as virtual classrooms.
TA is requested on a course-by-course basis, and each course must be part of an approved educational plan. Courses must be in pursuit of approved degree programs provided by accredited schools that have signed the Department of Defense Memorandum of Understanding.
Due to funding constraints, the Air Force has limited the total benefit per airman to $3,750 for the 2021 fiscal year, which runs from Oct. 1 2020 to Sept. 30, 2021. Previously, airmen could receive $4,500 annually.
Air Force TA is limited to 124 undergraduate and 42 graduate hours total.
Soldiers can use up to $4,000 to pay for up to 16 semester hours of undergraduate or graduate coursework per fiscal year.
The Army TA program has a total cap of 130 semester hours of undergraduate credit, or the completion of a bachelor’s degree, and a separate cap of 39 hours of graduate credit, or the completion of a master’s degree.
The Coast Guard screens members for TA eligibility based on satisfactory progress towards qualifications and craft proficiency and requires a positive conduct record. Selected Reservists must also be making satisfactory progress towards participation standards.
Coast Guard members have an annual fiscal year cap of $2,250 for TA payments, equaling nine credit hours. Coast Guard TA is limited to 130 undergraduate and 40 graduate hours.
Marines must have completed 24 months of service to use TA benefits. TA is also available to reservists on continuous active duty, enlisted reservists ordered to active duty 120 days or longer, and to reserve officers ordered to active duty for two years or longer.
The fiscal year 2021 limit on Marine Corps TA benefits is $4,500.
Sailors must complete two years of active duty before using TA benefits, and also must have completed one year at their first permanent duty station, with waivers available at the CO/OIC level.
The Navy has a cap of $3,000 for fiscal year 2021. After running out of money in May 2019, this cap was reduced to the current level and lifetime TA for sailors is limited to 120 credit hours.
At this time, Space Force uses the same TA rules as the Air Force. For fiscal year 2021, space professionals may use up to $3,750.
These guidelines and rules are not comprehensive and are subject to change at any time. If you’re planning to use TA, check with your installation or branch education office to get the most accurate and complete information for your situation, and reach out to your school’s VA advisors. They are a vital resource in helping you work through the process.
TA benefits can help you accomplish your military and post-military goals. Secretary Braithwaite says, “It is one of the greatest benefits of serving in uniform.” Understanding your branch’s rules for the TA program is the first step in getting the education you want.