In fiscal year (FY) 2019, almost 250,000 servicemembers participated in the U.S. Department of Defense’s (DOD) Tuition Assistance (TA) program. The program allows eligible servicemembers to take postsecondary classes on a part-time basis during off-duty hours at one of 1,808 participating schools. Servicemembers (1) must obtain approval from their military service education counselor before enrolling; and (2) may take classes online, in a classroom, or through a combination of modalities.
The TA program provides participants up to $4,500 each fiscal year for undergraduate, graduate, vocational, licensure, certificate, and language courses. DOD authorizes the military services to pay schools a maximum fee of $250 per credit hour, allowing TA participants to earn up to 18 credits per year. The military services that manage the TA program, however, may and do set service-specific criteria to manage TA funds. Servicemembers may take additional classes during the year by paying the tuition themselves or by applying for federal student aid.
This fact sheet uses FY 2019 DOD data on the TA program to identify (1) revenue and enrollment at for-profit, nonprofit, and public institutions; and (2) the number of TA participants who received either credentials or degrees. We also analyzed the same metrics for the 10 schools receiving the most DOD revenue in each sector. To provide context for our analysis, we compared changes in overall TA enrollment, expenditures, and credentials awarded since FY 2017. The DOD data we analyzed is publicly available on the TA DECIDE website, which is intended to help servicemembers make an informed choice about where to use their DOD educational benefits.
- Although fewer servicemembers enrolled in the 105 for-profit schools that participate in TA, that sector received more revenue from TA than the 1,145 public institutions that enrolled 16 percent more participants.
- Similar proportions of credentials were awarded by each institutional sector, but there was considerable variation in the type of credential earned across the three sectors.
- Nonprofit institutions had the highest rate of successful course completion, while public sector institutions had the lowest average cost per course.
- The 10 institutions from each sector receiving the most revenue accounted for 76 percent of TA expenditures in FY 2019, but 1 for-profit school alone received almost 20 percent of overall TA payments.
- Six of the 10 for-profit schools receiving the most TA revenue in FY 2019 settled with state or federal authorities primarily for misleading advertising or aggressive recruiting tactics.
- Credentials awarded to servicemembers by the 10 institutions receiving the most revenue in each sector did not reflect the total number of credentials earned, particularly at nonprofit and public institutions. A significant proportion of credentials awarded by these two sectors were earned at schools other than the 10 highest-TA-revenue institutions. In general, schools with higher enrollment also awarded more credentials.
- TA enrollment, expenditures, and military service participation rates have been essentially flat since FY 2017.
Read and download the full factsheet here:
Final TA DECIDE 2021 factsheet
Footnotes for the Introduction and Highlights:
TA-approved schools must be eligible to participate in federal student aid and the GI Bill. The participation requirements are outlined in a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that schools must sign. The MOU incorporates requirements spelled out in Executive Order 13607, Establishing Principles of Excellence for Educational Institutions Serving Service Members, Veterans, Spouses, and Other Family Members (also known as the “Principles of Excellence,” which outlines the support and protections that schools must commit to providing to military-connected students).
Each of the military services is responsible for determining eligibility for TA, which takes into consideration time-in-service, training status, and fitness/conduct standards.
An unpublished March 2017 briefing by the Director of DOD Voluntary Education Programs reported that 85 percent of participants take some online courses.
Books and fees are not covered by TA. Participants must pay back TA funds if they withdraw from classes after the add/drop date or if they fail to complete classes successfully.
For example, the Army limits participants to 16 semester hours, not to exceed $4,000 annually. The Navy limited servicemembers to $3,000 in TA funds annually starting in FY 2020, and barred both enlisted personnel and officers from using TA during their first 2 years on active duty. For FY 2021, the Air Force set a $3,750 per participant cap on TA.