Service members have just as much of a right to advance their education as their civilian counterparts. However, given the requirements of service, self-funding an education isn't always an option. The government does have a tuition assistance program (TA) to help cover the educational cost, but it does come with some specific requirements.
Eligibility for TA is dependent on your status in the armed forces. First and foremost, all five branches of the military participate in the program, but not every branch extends the funding to every service member. Across the board, all active duty service members are eligible for assistance.
However, only the Air Force and Army extend eligibility to reservists. Only Coast Guard and Naval reservists currently on active duty status are eligible, and in the Marine Corps, reservists are not eligible. You are also subject to time-in-service requirements, so you will need to have served for a specific period to be eligible.
Unlike some civilian-employer programs, the military has fixed pricing for the TA program. To get the most from the program, service members are advised to carefully review the school's cost per credit hour before using this assistance.
If the cost of the credit hour exceeds the military guideline, you might be required to pay the difference on your own or take out a federal financial aid. So, if you want to keep your share low, you should do your research. Additionally, some schools offer military grants to cover the cost difference between the TA and the course cost. The program also has fiscal year limits, so you will only be able to fund a certain number of courses each year.
The military will not cover the cost of your education if you are not earnestly putting forth an earnest effort. For example, for service members in the Navy, any funded courses that result in a withdrawal must be reimbursed.
If the withdrawal is the result of a service requirement, such as deployment or another uncontrollable event, reimbursement might be waved. However, any course that results in a failing grade must be reimbursed. Every branch has different requirements and the requirements are also different for graduate and undergraduate degrees, so do your research.
The military tuition assistance program can help you achieve your educational goals when used correctly. Speak with an advisor from the school you plan to attend to ensure the program is accepted and speak with your command about your military education finance options.