A few KU students already feeling effects after military tuition assistance suspended

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The early effects of this month’s automatic federal spending cuts have hit financial assistance for military service members taking college courses, and at least a few Kansas University students are already feeling it in their pocketbooks.

The U.S. Army, Marine Corps and Air Force have suspended their tuition assistance programs for active-duty, reserve or National Guard service members because of the automatic cuts, known as the sequester, that went into place March 1. The Navy was the lone service branch not to suspend the assistance as of Friday.

Among the recipients of that tuition help, which can be as much as $4,500 per year, are 64 current KU students.

The good news is that students enrolled in spring classes won’t lose the funding they’ve already been awarded, according to Brian McDow, interim senior associate university registrar for KU.

“Spring students are in good shape,” McDow said.

But the military branches aren’t awarding any new funding, McDow said, and it will soon be time for students to begin enrolling in summer or fall courses. “The soonest a person might need to worry about this is the end of March,” McDow said.

The cuts don’t affect students in the supply chain management and logistics master’s degree program that the KU School of Business offers to officers stationed at Fort Leavenworth.

That program allows officers, mostly Army majors but a few from other branches, to earn a master’s degree in just 10 and a half months, with the aim of helping them work in logistics positions in the military and also to prepare them for jobs in the civilian world when their service is over.

Because the program is so condensed, it doesn’t follow KU’s normal semester-based calendar. New courses start throughout the year, and some for this year’s class don’t begin until April, said Greg Freix, a business school lecturer who directs the program.

Freix said he suggested that students apply as early as possible, in late February, for tuition assistance for their final courses, just in case the budget cuts shook things up.

Sure enough, the announcement came early this month that the assistance was suspended. Some of his students didn’t get their applications in before then. That means they’ll have to pay out of pocket for them, though they may be receiving help from other military programs.

Freix did not have exact numbers available, but he estimated that about half of the 32 members in his current class were using tuition assistance. The program costs roughly $14,000 in all, plus textbooks, he said. Some students receive scholarships from the Army, and others may be able to use GI Bill benefits to pay tuition.

It remains to be seen whether the next class of students in the program will be able to apply for tuition assistance, he said. He said he was confident the program would still attract a full class, as students in the past have shown a willingness to pay their own way if necessary.

Two U.S. senators were pushing this week for an amendment that would restore the tuition assistance programs.

Baker University this week announced plans to provide financial support for any active-duty military students whose funding is affected by the sequester.

McDow said word has not yet come down from the military branches what exactly will happen to students hoping to use tuition assistance to take summer or fall classes.

“We don’t know what that impact will be yet,” he said.