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Air Force might suspend tuition assistance program

The Air Force will consider suspending a tuition reimbursement program for airmen under pressure from the Department of Defense to make “significant reductions” to the program for incoming applicants.

The Army and the Marine Corps have already suspended the tuition program for soldiers and Marines as the effects of automatic budget cuts, known as sequestration, begin to take effect. Those currently enrolled can complete coursework, but no new students will be allowed to enroll, according to the Pentagon.

Air Force Lt. Col. Brett Ashworth said Friday his service branch had made no decisions yet, but expected to next week. Wright-Patterson Air Force base has 1,374 airmen enrolled in the active-duty tuition assistance program through courses at dozens of colleges and universities, according to Theodore Theopolos, a base spokesman.

If the program is suspended, it would also impact about 20 students at the Air Force Institute of Technology, the service branch’s post-graduate school at Wright-Patterson, he said in an email.

Navy Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen, a Pentagon spokesman, said each service is responsible for funding and administering the program.

The Department of Defense this week issued guidance that indicated “the services should consider significant reductions in funding new tuition assistance applicants, effective immediately and for the duration of the fiscal year,” Christensen said in an email. The Pentagon has begun slashing expenses with automatic budget cuts, known as sequestration, and funding shortfalls of $46 billion expected between now and the end of the fiscal year in September.

The Air Force Tuition Assistance program offers 100 percent tuition and fee payments. The program pays up to $250 per semester credit hour, $166 per quarter credit hour and a maximum of $4,500 in a fiscal year. The program applies up to earning a master’s degree.

In the Army, more than 201,000 soldiers were enrolled in the program last year and about 9,300 earned college degrees. The service spent $373 million on the educational coursework. Additional information from the Air Force and the Marine Corps was not provided Friday.

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