Federal Tuition Assistance (abbreviated TA or FTA) is one of several financial aid programs that may be available to qualifying military members—including some active duty officers and eligible reservists. Tuition assistance awards and guidelines are administered separately by different branches of the Armed Forces.
Below is a summary of the federal TA program in general, as it applies to all potential recipients. For more specific details on a particular branch’s policies and updated budgets, visit the official websites of the U.S. Army[i], Navy[ii], Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard[iii], respectively. Army National Guard members may wish to contact personnel in their State Education Offices or visit the ARNG websites for their home states.[iv]
How much assistance might I receive through the Tuition Assistance (TA) program?
TA amounts vary based on your service branch and the number of courses or credit hours you decide to take. In the past, maximum amounts for all branches were capped at $250 per credit hour and $4,500 per fiscal year. In 2011 however, the Marine Corps reduced its annual maximum to $875, and the Department of Defense was expected to issue newly reduced levels for all other branches, as well.[v] Future funding levels may vary. Check with your base’s Education Officer for the most up-to-date figures and personalized advice.
Which colleges can accept TA benefits? Can I use TA for online classes?
In the past, TA was redeemable at most accredited schools and colleges—including regionally or nationally accredited online programs with accreditation recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. In 2011, the Department of Defense began drafting a “memorandum of understanding” (MOU), designed to tighten college eligibility guidelines. The final MOU has not yet been released (as of October 2012), but future TA dispersal will be limited to only those schools and colleges that agree to the terms of this document. So far, over 2,000 colleges have signed the pending MOU.
What kinds of degrees or certificates can I pursue with TA benefits?
Different military branches maintain different guidelines, but generally speaking, you may apply TA benefits toward a high school completion program, an undergraduate certificate program, a vocational/technical diploma, an associate degree, bachelor degree, or master degree. Some professional degrees (for example, in dentistry or medicine) may be approved, but most doctorates and PhD programs are ineligible. TA benefits also cannot be used to complete lateral degrees (in other words: a second bachelor degree in a different area of study).
Will TA pay for anything besides college courses?
In some cases, TA benefits may be used to cover course-related expenses—including lab equipment fees, technology fees, or art supply fees, which are automatically added to your tuition bill. Books and general school supplies are not covered by TA benefits. College fees that do not pertain to specific courses (e.g. application fees or graduation fees) are not redeemable either.
Is there a limit as to how many courses I can take at once?
Yes. Your base's education officer can limit your course load. Also, keep in mind that TA is approved on a course-by-course basis. Each class you plan to take must be approved, even if taken during the same semester.
Does TA money go to me or the school?
The money is usually paid directly to the institution.
How and when do I apply for federal tuition assistance?
This depends on your service branch. Check with your base’s Education Officer, who may direct you to an online portal and an electronic application process.
Some branches may accept applications up until the first day of class, but if your college requires payment before that date (e.g. at the time of registration) you may be better off securing TA approval well before class registration. Remember: TA funds are not distributed to you, and they cannot be used to reimburse you for tuition payments you have already made. Most branches recommend that you apply between 90 days and 30 days in advance of course registration. Be sure to note any follow-up procedures involved—for example, when and how you are required to report your final grades—as failure to comply may jeopardize future TA eligibility.
What happens if I fail a class that TA paid for?
If you fail a course, you will be required to repay any TA funds you received. If you are forced to withdraw due to emergency circumstances or service obligations, you must follow all the guidelines and documentation requirements noted by your service branch, in addition to any guidelines that are noted by your college.
Will TA pay for a class that I previously failed?
Possibly, but only after you have repaid the TA funds you initially received for the course. You should also note that your combined grade point average may affect your eligibility for future TA funds. If you fall below a certain GPA (generally 2.0), you may need to pay for courses out of pocket or with other forms of aid until you improve your overall grades.
How do I withdraw from a course that TA paid for?
This varies quite a bit among the different military branches. Because the policies are always subject to change, it's best to check with your Education Officer to learn more.
Will I need to complete a service obligation if I use TA?
That depends on your status. Enlisted servicemembers may not be subject to any service obligations if they use TA benefits while enlisted, and if their coursework is over before their ETS date. Officers and reservists usually do incur a service obligation (usually two years of active duty; four years of reserve duty, respectively), which is calculated from the end date of the last TA course completed. Civilian employees of the Coast Guard who qualify to receive TA do not incur any service obligation. Check with your Education Office for details on how these rules might apply to you.
Besides TA, are there other forms of military aid I may be eligible to receive?
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs administers several financial aid programs for qualifying veterans and servicemembers, including Reserve Educational Assistance (REAP), Survivors & Dependents Assistance (DEA), the Veterans Educational Assistance Program (VEAP), and recently, the Veterans Retraining Assistance Program (VRAP). Visit the VA website for official, updated details.
In addition, many states offer tuition waivers or grants/scholarships to qualifying veterans and National Guard members. State benefits are usually limited to public colleges and universities within the servicemember’s state of residence. In some cases, spouses and dependents of qualifying veterans may also receive state-based aid.
Please see our military education benefits section to learn more.