Students lose Army tuition assistance

By Rebecca Fiedler
Staff Writer

Baylor has been suspended from its students receiving tuition assistance from the U.S. Army.

The Army offers up to $250 per semester hour to soldiers one year after graduating from initial entry training.

“We elected not to participate in the program,” said Lori Fogleman, assistant vice president for media communications.

For several years Baylor has had two to three students a year who have used tuition assistance from the Army, said Jackie Diaz, assistant vice president for student financial services, strategy and planning.

A few years ago GoArmyEd, the Army’s online service for requesting financial aid, began to require that students use an issued government payment card for their Army tuition assistance.
“Baylor does not accept credit cards directly for any tuition payment, and we never have,” Diaz said.

Baylor doesn’t accept this type of payment because of expense to the university, Diaz said, as credit card companies charge fees. If Baylor had to pay these fees, tuition would likely be raised. The only way Baylor will accept such payments is through a third-party processor, which involves the students and parents paying extra fees.

Maj. Santos Arroyo, battalion commander of Baylor Army ROTC, said there could be benefits for Baylor in accepting tuition assistance, because Fort Hood soldiers might use those benefits.

“There are a lot of officers at Fort Hood that would love to drive one hour to Baylor three or four times a week that to complete a degree plan,” Arroyo said. “It’s an opportunity that I think Baylor could capitalize on.”

Once Baylor told GoArmyEd that the university doesn’t accept credit cards, there was a period of negotiation with Baylor and GoArmyEd. GoArmyEd acknowledged that there are multiple other schools in the same situation as Baylor with payment policies, so GoArmyEd exempted Baylor from the card method of payment.

On March 1, 2013, however, the U.S. Department of Defense wrote an updated memorandum of understanding concerning tuition assistance: a document that requires universities to accept tuition assistance via payment cards. For Baylor to continue accepting tuition assistance from the Army, Baylor would have to sign this memorandum of understanding.

“Baylor kind of pushed back against that and indicated that we’ve gone through this with GoArmyEd and reached a resolution,” Diaz said. “In the second or third iteration, not in the agreement itself but in the appendix of the memorandum, the Department of Defense indicates that if a school is currently receiving an exemption from one of the subsidiaries, that school will be allowed to continue with that exemption unless the Department decides otherwise.”

Baylor officials were concerned, though, that the Department of Defense might take away the school’s exemption from credit card usage if Baylor agreed to sign the memorandum, Diaz said. Officials have also been concerned about what the Department of Defense might do concerning not just those receiving Army tuition assistance, but also student veterans using GI Bill benefits.

“Obviously, if all Baylor is processing is two or three students, that’s not that many,” Diaz said. “That’s no big deal. But the direction that the Department of Defense is heading is aimed to consolidate all things veteran and military. The Department wants to begin to process these things the same way.”

Almost 300 student veterans at Baylor use GI Bill benefits. Diaz said if the Department of Defense pulls the Veterans Affairs program under the payment provision of the memorandum, there may be more $200,000 that Baylor would have to absorb in fees to receive the government payment card.

“That’s $200,000 that could be given in scholarships,” Diaz said. “If what we’re doing right now is successful and beneficial to our military and veteran students, why expose Baylor to that kind of expense?”

Baylor has researched a sampling of schools who signed the memorandum where exemption was taken away. Some universities have had to raise fees on the general population of students to accommodate fees. The fees that would come with card usage would either be paid at Baylor with endowed funds or student tuition, Diaz said.

Baylor does offer financial services to its military students. Baylor takes part in the Yellow Ribbon Program, through which the university pays the remainder of fees for a veteran’s tuition where the GI Bill doesn’t.

Some students may not be eligible for Yellow Ribbon, however. A student veteran must have served three years active duty before qualifying, so students who have not served this amount of time cannot receive these funds.

Diaz said if a student veteran can’t get Yellow Ribbon money, they should make sure to fill out their FAFSA. The student’s financial need is then analyzed and Baylor can award need-based and merit-based scholarships.

Sgt. Dana Leeper, Waco graduate student, serves with the Texas Army National Guard. Leeper said she was not able to receive Army tuition assistance at Baylor this year or Yellow Ribbon Program benefits and therefore had to pay a small portion of her tuition with her own money.

Leeper said as a graduate student, however, she struggles with finding scholarships, feeling they go mostly to undergrads.

“I only have to come up with $850 of my own to pay, which is a blessing that I only have to pay such a small amount,” Leeper said. “But I would love to be able to apply for a scholarship and have that covered. It’s just really not an option once you get to graduate school.”

Leeper said she understands the business logic behind Baylor’s decisions with Army tuition assistance.

“If it were a bunch of us on campus who wanted to use the tuition assistance and Baylor weren’t allowing us to, I bet Baylor would figure something out,” Leeper said “But because it’s so few of us, it’s almost not worth it.”