(Photo by Chinh Doan)
FORT HOOD (March 13, 2013)--Four of the five military branches have suspended their tuition assistance programs because of the automatic federal budget cuts known as the sequester and Fort Hood soldiers are feeling the impact including Spc. Shaun McDonald.
He was excited after his return from Afghanistan last year to take on the mission of finishing his degree in information technology.
"That was the time for me to buckle down and finish my degree that I started back in 2007, so I was on a roll, then all of a sudden (tuition assistance) got suspended," he said.
"Not really knowing how everything is going to play out is really putting stress on me."
According to Mike Engen, Fort Hood’s education services officer, it’s a very competitive time for soldiers.
"The message to the soldiers has been to move up or move out, which means soldiers need to be more competitive," Engen said.
"They need to be really working their professional development and stand aside from their peers, which education has always been the number one way of doing that."
In the past three years, the number of Fort Hood soldiers using tuition assistance programs has increased.
The latest data show about 12,000 soldiers utilized the educational assistance from Oct. 1, 2011 to Sept. 30, 2012.
Fort Hood Education Services says the tuition assistance programs pay as much as $250 per semester hour for active-duty personnel, and as much as $4,500 per year.
Soldiers already enrolled in approved tuition assistance classes will not be affected, but those who aren’t won’t be granted the assistance.
Nearby colleges are concerned of the suspension's impact on classrooms and campuses.
"We're very concerned that this will affect enrollment if it goes on very long," said Jim Yeonopolus, Central Texas College's deputy chancellor, which is why he and other educational officials in Central Texas are encouraging military men and women to take action.
"As soon as possible, they need to get to the Education Center, they need to go online and find out what financial aid packages are available," Yeonopolus said.
Military personnel may still qualify for educational aid through VA benefits, grants and scholarships.
"Keep going to school, keep coming in, keep talking to your counselor," Yeonopolus said.