Thousands of Pikes Peak-region active-duty troops will have to find another way to pay for their education this fall due to federal budget cuts.
The military’s tuition assistance program, which pays up to $4,500 per fiscal year for active-duty service members’ academic pursuits, was suspended by the Marines and the Army last week. The Air Force and Coast Guard followed suit this week, suspending their programs on Tuesday. The Navy is mulling suspending its program too.
The tuition program cuts are part of $46 billion in budget cuts the Pentagon must make this year under a congressionally-mandated austerity program called sequestration.
Troops now enrolled in classes will be allowed to finish, but future classes under the tuition assistance program are out.
Soldiers and airmen can pay for classes using other forms of financial aid, including the GI Bill.
Approximately 2,000 Fort Carson soldiers have enrolled in classes using Army tuition assistance this fiscal year, according to post officials.
Nearly 5,000 Fort Carson soldiers took advantage of the program last fiscal year at a cost of $9 million. Those soldiers earned 26 certificates, 67 associate’s degrees, 113 bachelor’s degrees and 54 graduate degrees, officials said.
More than 1,500 airmen assigned to Peterson and Schriever Air Force bases and Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station have used the program this fiscal year, according to Peterson Air Force Base’s education office, which serves all three installations.
Those students’ education benefits account for $2.15 million in tuition assistance, Peterson officials said.
At the Air Force Academy, 443 airmen have used the program this fiscal year at a cost of $520,000, academy officials said.
At Pikes Peak Community College, 149 airmen and 430 soldiers are using the tuition assistance programs this semester, said Cheri Arfsten, director of the college’s Department of Military and Veterans Programs.
“The people who have sacrificed the most for our country are taking the brunt of this,” Arfsten said.
About 100 active-duty troops who are students at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs will lose their tuition assistance, said Phillip Morris, director of the university’s Office of Veteran and Military Student Affairs.
“Everyone is going to have to find different financial options,” he said. “Starting VA benefits might not be the best. It’s up to the individual what they’d like to do. We can talk them through it.”