Air Force suspends tuition assistance program due to spending cuts

The Air Force has followed the lead of the Army and Marine Corps and blocked new enrollments in a college tuition assistance program because of automatic spending cuts.

Wright-Patterson Air Force Base has 1,374 airmen using the tuition assistance program enrolled at dozens of universities, according to the base.

The change, which impacts active-duty airmen, took effect Monday, according to Lt. Col. Laurel P. Tingley, a service spokeswoman who announced the decision Tuesday. Airmen already enrolled will be allowed to complete course work in a program the Air Force budgeted $128 million for this year.

The Air Force says it values the program, but “sequestration is having a devastating effect on readiness, modernization and the workforce and we have had to make difficult choices to preserve readiness,” she said in an email.

More than 104,000 active duty airmen were enrolled in the tuition reimbursement initiative in the last fiscal year.

Tuition and fee payments were covered up to a maximum of $4,500 a year. Airmen can use the program to earn up to a master’s degree.

The Department of Defense issued guidance last week that called on each service to consider “significant reductions in funding new tuition assistance applicants, effective immediately for the duration of the fiscal year,” according to Navy Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen, a Pentagon spokesman.

The Air Force will re-evaluate the program’s status for fiscal year 2014, Tingley indicated.