April 02, 2004


I wrote above about military education benefits and how the system has a few flaws. Here's what I've seen so far that makes me scratch my head.

Not all educations are equal. My husband went to Truman State University. He got 100% tuition assistance through ROTC; the 2004-2005 in-state tuition is $5410 per year. My husband's best buddy went to Johns Hopkins. He also got 100% tuition assistance, which for 2004-2005 is $28,730. Ouch. My husband's entire college career cost less than one year for his buddy. That seems a little lopsided to me.

Another trick comes when you fill out your VA paperwork for your GI Bill. There's a space for whichever degree you are working on, and the catch is that this answer is binding. If you say Associates Degree, then the money cuts off after you get your AA. When filling out this paperwork, always put PhD; you can get less education than you requested but not more.

But by far the biggest flaw I've noticed in the system has to do with the withdrawal rate for active duty soldiers. We hold classes in 8-week blocks. A soldier must request a tuition assistance form, get it signed by his commander, and turn it in. Theoretically, in signing the TA, the commander acknowledges that the soldier will be busy with this class, and a commander should not sign the form if he anticipates that the soldier will not have time for the course. However, this never happens in practice. The Army wastes hundreds of thousands of dollars each year paying for classes that soldiers cannot finish: they deploy, they have CQ a couple of times and can't get caught up, or they go to the field. This is terrible. If a soldier withdraws himself from a class, the tuition is deducted automatically from his paycheck. But if the Army withdraws the soldier for mission-related activities, the Army still pays the college the full amount for the course. On our post alone, we get roughly 100 withdrawals per year. That's $50,000 that the Army pays to the school, and the soldier gets no college credit whatsoever. And that's only on our small post; multiply that by all the schools on all the military posts around the globe, and it's some serious cash. The Army will also pay for the soldier to take the same class again at a later date. It's shocking how lax soldiers and commanders are about the tuition assistance. I have a real problem with it, but not for the same reason the soldiers do. They complain because they're never allowed to finish their courses; I complain because our government is paying for them to never finish their courses. Sometimes things really do come up unexpectedly, but it's a real waste to keep registering soldiers for classes they're never going to complete.

Posted by Sarah at April 2, 2004 03:16 PM

The rules used to be that for VA benefits (old school) you could change your goal once without reason. After that, you needed approval to change. The best advice was always to say something generic like, "I want to get the necessary education to establish and operate my own business." That pretty much covered it all, college and trade schools included.

Posted by: Mike at April 2, 2004 05:11 PM