Fewer commissioned officers would use the Pentagon’s tuition assistance program if Congress approves a proposal that would extend service commitments by two years for those who participate, the government’s watchdog agency said.
“When active-duty officers use this benefit, they increase the length of time they must remain in military service,” the Government Accountability Office (GAO) stated in a Sept. 16 report.
The proposed change pending before Congress would no longer allow service members who use tuition assistance to increase their service time by two years concurrently. Rather, the extension would have to be served concurrently. Education counselors and officers alike told GAO that the change would have two adverse effects –reductions in tuition-assistance participation and retention efforts.
Service members who wish to pursue higher education likely would opt to either pay for it out of pocket or defer it until they leave the service, counselors and officers told GAO. They also said that the change could trigger higher administrative costs for the program, to “adequately officers of the change to the service commitment or to track officers’ service obligations.”
The Pentagon provided tuition assistance to roughly 15,000 active duty officers during fiscal year 2018 (Oct. 1, 2017-Sept. 30, 2018), at a cost of nearly $31 million. During the same period, another 200,000 officers and enlisteds enrolled in more than 600,000 courses, at a cost of roughly $425 million.