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JCC planning for changes to Army tuition assistance program affecting their Fort Drum students

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As questions linger about the future of the Army’s tuition assistance program, one Jefferson Community College administrator said he is waiting to see what changes will be made, and how it will affect the college and its Fort Drum students.

“We’re going to look at providing opportunities no matter how the defense or federal budget works out,” said Donald R. Johnson, JCC’s director of military programs. “At this point, nobody knows what the effects will be.”

With the military requiring large budget cuts because of sequestration for the upcoming 2014 fiscal year, which starts in October, it has been thought that changes to the program could be coming. In March, enrollments in the program were halted for about a month, also because of sequestration.

However, an Aug. 30 Army Times story said no decision had been made on the Army’s program for the looming new fiscal year. In comparison, the Air Force will require airmen and officers in the new fiscal year to seek their supervisor’s approval before class enrollment.

The Army’s tuition assistance program, for which all soldiers, including Army Reserve and Army National Guard members, are eligible, pays up to $250 per credit hour, with an annual limit of $4,500.

Though other regional colleges have a small number of students enrolled with the help of the program, JCC has one of the larger enrollments of local active-duty soldiers, a big boost for the school’s bottom line.

Mr. Johnson said that as of Friday, 212 of the 262 active-duty military students enrolled for the fall semester used the program to take 1,628 credits, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. More enrollments could come during the school’s late fall session, meaning the credit count for the fall could go even higher, he said.

Last fall, 283 of the 311 active-duty Army students enrolled used their tuition assistance benefits to take 1,773 credits.

Among the options available to students if the military aid was dropped are pursuing programs such as federal Pell grants or the state’s tuition assistance program.

“We’ll continue to seek ways to help students find those various funding sources,” Mr. Johnson said.

Even if the program were altered, Mr. Johnson said, he is hopeful that enrollment levels would remain stable.

“It enhances their military careers, and it enhances our student life,” he said.

In the past few years, the tuition assistance program has been a valuable tool for Fort Drum soldiers pursuing college coursework.

According to an economic impact statement released by the post in March, 1,517 soldiers were authorized a total of $911,367 in tuition assistance benefits in fiscal year 2012, about $600 per soldier. In the previous fiscal year, the post authorized $721,000 in benefits for 525 soldiers, about $1,373.33 per soldier.

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