The government shutdown of October 1 has spawned daily reports about the effects of this action on a variety of constituent groups. What is the impact, though, on our adult students who are service members of the United States Armed Forces? We have heard assurances that salaries of active duty military personnel will continue but, at this point in time, all Military Tuition Assistance (MTA) has been suspended.
What does that mean, exactly? The short answer is that tuition assistance funding for classes starting after October 1 will not be available until next fiscal year once (and if) funding is released. In addition to the tremendous financial impact this will have on military students — who were counting on this funding — there are less tangible effects as well. No counseling or educational services and advising will be available through armed services education centers, alternate testing services will not be funded, Joint Services transcripts may be delayed or unavailable and the GoArmyEd education registration portal has been suspended.
While each branch education center will disseminate the latest guidelines and policies related to the shutdown, it is apparent military students will have to use VA benefits, federal financial aid, state aid (if available) and/or personal funds to pay for coursework.
GI Bill benefits may be available to military students as an alternate source of funding. This includes the Post 9/11 GI Bill, the Montgomery GI Bill and the Reserve Educational Assistance Program.
Colleges with large military student populations are enacting new policies and processes to ease the financial burden of the shutdown. Provision of extended office hours and additional staffing to answer questions related to applying for VA benefits and extra assistance in applying for additional forms of funding are being offered. Colleges are pushing students affected by the shutdown to complete FAFSA forms to assess their eligibility for Pell grants, student loans and institutional aid. Though adult military students may be hesitant to take on loan burden since they have not had to use these resources in the past, savvy financial aid counselors are stressing the need to only use funds necessary to meet direct educational expenses as a temporary measure during the shutdown.
During this crisis, colleges are offering more liberal and student-friendly withdrawal policies for those who wish to enroll but subsequently fail to obtain external funding. For students who do not qualify for external funding, colleges are also offering easy payment plans or reduced tuition for military students experiencing difficulties in obtaining funding.
Despite these efforts, however, it appears many adult military students are opting to “stop-out” until MTA becomes available again. Unfortunately, this will have a significant impact on institutions that enroll a large population of student service members.
While the government shutdown is a tremendous challenge to our adult military students, colleges and universities can and should step up to this opportunity by providing enhanced support through campus financial aid offices, academic advising processes and veterans service centers. These vital college departments can offer attractive and meaningful solutions to encourage continued enrollment for our service members even through these difficult times. We owe them nothing less.
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