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Air Force restores tuition program

The Air Force has restored open enrollment of a popular tuition assistance program thousands of Wright-Patterson active-duty airmen have used to pay for college degrees.

The Air Force, faced with a forced cut of more than $10 billion before October because of automatic budget cuts known as sequestration, suspended new enrollments March 11. Under pressure from the Pentagon, the Army and Marine Corps took the same actions, but the Navy held firm and didn’t follow the other services lead.

“The suspension was necessary given the significant budget challenges caused by the combined effects of a possible year-long continuing resolution and sequestration,” Lt. Col. Laurel P. Tingley, an Air Force spokeswoman, said in an email.

Congress ordered tuition assistance restored as part of the current year’s budget after an outcry within the ranks. The Air Force obliged last week. Those who were enrolled didn’t lose their funding for the academic semester, although the suspension temporarily barred new enrollments.

The Air Force has 73,000 airmen enrolled in the program and set aside $130 million for active-duty tuition assistance, according to Tingley. This year, Wright-Patterson has 1,374 airmen enrolled in the program in 2,687 courses at colleges throughout the country.

One area university welcomed the return of tuition assistance to active-duty service members on the campus of the University of Dayton.

“The investment in higher education for active-duty personnel is not only an investment in our future, but also a recognition of their service to the nation,” Kathy McEuen Harmon, a University of Dayton vice president and dean of admission and financial aid, said. “As Congress continues to review budget realities and set priorities for federal spending, active duty and veterans’ education benefits hopefully will remain a top priority.”

The University of Dayton has about 280 Wright-Patterson active duty service members and Ohio Air National Guard personnel enrolled in courses, according to the university. The number in each group wasn’t immediately available, and not all of them are enrolled in the tuition assistance program.

Spokespersons at Wright State University and Sinclair Community College could not immediately be reached for comment Monday.

U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, voted for the restoration with the passage of a continuing budget resolution.

“Our men and women in uniform have volunteered to put their lives on the line for this nation,” he said in an emailed statement. “We expect them to do much in difficult circumstances and environments. Sequestration, which I voted against, put at risk funding to assist with their college tuition. I am glad to have supported legislation which will ensure the additional burden and expense of tuition payments are not something they will have to worry about while serving our country.”

Active-duty airmen receive tuition assistance of up to $4,500 a year, or $250 per semester hour or quarter hour.

Last year, more than 104,000 active-duty airmen were enrolled in the program.

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