New rules for veteran aid could halt tuition

President of GW Vets Scott Disney said he hopes that the Department of Defense will not limit tuition assistance programs in the face of federal budget cuts.

December 1, 2011
by Jamie Blynn

An academic organization that boasts GW as a member is threatening to withdraw from the federal tuition assistance program for active-duty military students, rather than comply with new limitations tied to the program.

The National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities – an organization with which GW is affiliated – was one of six to allege that the new Department of Defense guidelines are too intrusive, allowing the government to overstep university autonomy. The memo lays out policies that are “inconsistent and, in many cases, incompatible” with the current practices of member organizations, according to the Nov. 21 petition by the groups.

The Defense Department rules restrict “the awarding of academic credit, in-school residency requirements, education plans, tuition policies and payment processing” of participating colleges, the complaint letter said.

The limitations – designed to cut down on aid fraud and inefficiency – were outlined in a Department of Defense memorandum of understanding that was issued in March, but not contested until late November.

The memo requires that all universities who award federal tuition assistance dollars to active duty students comply with its terms, which include strict requirements about processing credit, financial aid and housing.

Time is running short for the protesting organizations, as all colleges must sign onto the program before Jan. 1 to participate in 2012 tuition assistance programs.

GW has not yet decided if it will agree to the Defense Department’s terms.

“The University is aware of the Department of Defense [memorandum of understanding] and is evaluating it,” University spokeswoman Michelle Sherrard said.

Because some institutions may refuse to sign the memo, active duty students that depend on tuition assistance will be limited in where they can attend, said Barmak Nassirian, associate executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers – another organization that signed the letter.

“While it’s not easy to change their decision process, I hope that the letter will have an impact and create action,” Nassirian said.

If the University fails to sign the memo by the deadline, it will not be able to provide financial aid to active military students through the federal tuition assistance program.

There were 98 active duty students taking courses online or on the Foggy Bottom Campus last year. These students are eligible for $4,500 per year through the tuition assistance program - funds that would be cut off if the University refuses to sign on to the new guidelines.

The University is frequently noted as one of the most military-friendly institutions in the country for its strong veteran support system. GW ranked No. 16 nationally for its academic, financial and student life programs for veterans by Military Times EDGE earlier this month.

GW expanded its commitment to the Yellow Ribbon Program – another federal military benefit initiative – in 2010 and stepped in to provide emergency payment for its students when their government aid lagged the year before.

Efforts to scale back federal funding threatened tuition assistance programs in August when Republicans in the House of Representatives tacked an evaluation of military benefits to the Defense Department’s 2012 appropriations bill.

“There is uncertainty around federal financial aid and tuition assistance programs of all kinds right now,” the University’s Director of Government Relations Kent Springfield said. “We generally have concerns about how a number of programs could be impacted by ongoing budget negotiations.”

President of GW Veterans Scott Disney said he is optimistic that the Defense Department will manage budget cuts without limiting tuition assistance.

“I would really hope that [the Defense Department] would be able to make up shortfalls in other areas, before making any cuts to tuition assistance, since it makes up a very small portion of the overall [Defense] budget,” Disney said.