While frustration and confusion grows over the Army’s stalled tuition assistance program, Army leaders vowed on Wednesday to reimburse soldiers who pay out of pocket for courses that the Army was supposed to pay for.
“At no point should the schools require any [up-front] payment … the soldiers should not have any upfront cost, but if they do the Army will reimburse them what they are authorized,” said Col. Charles Rambo, director of Army credentialing and continuing education services.
Rambo — along with Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael Grinston and Lt. Gen. Ted Martin, commander of the Combined Arms Center — spoke to reporters on Wednesday to address rising concerns about the service’s tuition assistance program. After attempting to switch platforms from GoArmyEd to the new ArmyIgnitED system, the service ran into technical issues that delayed the transition which was originally scheduled for March 8.
The fumble over the new platform has resulted in widespread confusion for soldiers unsure of who is paying the bill for their classes, with many saying they’ve had to pay out of pocket in order to move forward with registration or to be able to graduate on time.
“I’ve had to cancel some of the courses I was going to take because of the sheer cost, so that pushes me back a semester from graduating,” one soldier told NBC News.
The majority of the confusion seems to stem from inconsistent messaging about what soldiers should be able to expect while ArmyIgnitED is down.
The Army has said that soldiers should be able to use an exception to policy the service put in place to serve as a sort of IOU, and allow them to continue on with their courses. Through this workaround, soldiers should be able to enroll in classes through their school and when ArmyIgnitED is up and running — which may not be until after July 1 — the Army will pay back the schools what they’re owed.
But the exception to policy only seems to work if the schools agree to it, and some soldiers have said that their schools aren’t.
Additionally, while Army leaders said on Wednesday that soldiers shouldn’t be asked to pay upfront for classes, the ArmyIgnitED Facebook page is saying the exact opposite. After one person on Facebook said their school wouldn’t accept an IOU from the Army, the ArmyIgnitED page responded that the school support team reaches out to schools when they hear there are issues and the school “agrees to work with us with few exceptions.”
Days later, the page said “schools may require payment upfront and will refund the student [when] TA is paid.”
Grinston’s spokesman later clarified that while some schools may require upfront payment, soldiers should elevate the issue to their leaders in an effort to get it resolved before soldiers make those payments themselves. And if a soldier has already made that payment, they should tell their leaders so the Army can ensure they are reimbursed.
It’s unclear how quickly that reimbursement will come if soldiers are indeed paying upfront. Rambo said on Wednesday that when a soldier requests reimbursement, Army University will verify the soldier’s data with the school and “pay the school immediately so the soldier can be reimbursed.”
Grinston urged leaders to talk with their soldiers, make sure they have the information they need, help them through the process, and “not just send [them] to the education center.” And he and Martin — who said they both received degrees through the tuition assistance program — apologized to the soldiers impacted by the dysfunctional transition to ArmyIgnitED.
“As commanding general of the Combined Arms Center, I own this problem,” Martin said. “I take responsibility for it, and I humbly apologize to the soldiers out there that have been forced into financial hardship because of this.”
Featured photo: (From left) Connie Schauer, education services specialist with the 88th Readiness Division, and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Autumn Schumacker, a human resources technician with the 86th Training Division, discuss education funding options. (U.S. Army Photo by Cheryl Phillips)