Marissa Koons of Texas and her husband were in the Army for 10 years and nine years respectively. They both received tuition assistance, which has now been suspended due to the sequester. (Courtesy Marissa Koons)

Army suspends popular tuition assistance program because of sequester, in blow to soldiers

Servicemen and women who enlisted in the Army had the advantage of receiving tuition assistance, which helped soldiers to the tune of $373 million spread over 620,000 courses last year, to further their education and create a strong future for themselves in a life after their service.

Now that benefit has been scrapped due to budget issues stemming from the sequester, after the army announced Friday that it was suspending its tuition assistance program indefinitely.

“The secretary of the Army has approved the suspension of tuition assistance effective March 8, 2013, a statement on the GoArmyEd website read in part. “Soldiers will no longer be permitted to submit new requests…However, soldiers currently enrolled in courses approved for tuition assistance are not affected, and will be allowed to complete current course enrollment(s). This change in the Army tuition assistance program applies to all soldiers, including the Army National Guard and Army Reserves. The Army understands the impacts of this decision and will re-evaluate the decision if the budgetary situation improves.”

Marissa Koons, who works for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, was in the army for 10 years as was her husband, for nine years. They both took advantage of the tuition assistance program and she says the suspension will be a major blow to soldiers.

“The only reason I joined the Army was because of tuition assistance, because it was paying for college,” Koons says. “I would not have gotten the Associate’s degree I have now without it,” she says, adding that she is pursuing a Bachelor’s degree now.

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Koons says the reason she reenlisted in the Army, was to finish her degree. She says many of her friends in the Army are angry over the change.

“This has upset a lot of soldiers,” she says. “This is not just going to affect soldiers who take advantage of it, but the 3,100 colleges and universities that receive money from the program.”

With the $373 million in tuition assistance in 2012,  2,831 soldiers earned associate’s, 4,495 earned bachelor’s, and 1,946 received graduate degrees.

In a statement to NBC Latino, Stephen Platt, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon said, “The Army continues to value education as a force multiplier. Leaders at all levels encourage soldiers to take advantage of all educational opportunities, which make them better at their military jobs and set them up for success when transitioning to civilian life.”

But Koons says this commitment isn’t evident by the move to cut the tuition assistance program.

“I think it was the last thing they should have cut,” she says.

“There are so many other programs they can cut but this affects soldiers, airmen, marines. It affects them emotionally, physically and their morale — which is beyond low.”

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