Tuition assistance is back online, but many soldiers still need reimbursements
The military officially launched ArmyIgnitED, its new portal to support education, across the force last week after a delay of several months resulting from technical problems that left many soldiers waiting for the military to pay for their schools.
Some even paid out of pocket or had to forgo other student aid for their university courses.
“As of July 15, 131 educational institutions, including 23 of the 25 most visited institutions, had completed uploading their study plans and enrollment packages,” University of the University officials said. Army in a press release. “All soldiers whose educational institutions have uploaded their course registration files can now apply for tuition assistance for future ArmyIgnitED courses.”
About 70% of tuition assistance registrations will be live in the new system after 33 more schools complete their ongoing data downloads, the statement said.
Many soldiers were unable to receive their help with tuition fees after the military deactivated the old portal, GoArmyEd, in March and before ArmyIgnitED – contracted through Deloitte – was ready to go into service .
Harry Sarles, an Army University spokesperson, told Army Times that GoArmyEd was being phased out “because no further contract extensions were available. GoArmyEd’s license to operate was due to expire.
The service said it would begin processing “unpaid enrollments with tuition assistance to reimburse educational institutions” on Monday. Sarles said more than 40,000 registrations subject to an exception to the policy are included in this group.
“Awaiting payment of invoices from [GoArmyEd] are almost complete in terms of reimbursement from educational institutions, ”said Sarles. NBC News has previously reported these payments would be completed by the end of June.
For some soldiers, the financial impacts of delayed tuition assistance are already there.
Some, including a Hawaii-based non-commissioned officer who spoke with Army Times, saw their unpaid tuition fees covered by other federal student aid, such as the Pell scholarship, which would normally be reimbursed directly to the student.
“I am in a [information technology] major, ”said the non-commissioned officer, who requested anonymity in order to speak freely about his experience. “So I have to pay for lab software and manuals [using the Pell Grant money]. It will be over $ 300 for a course.
The soldier had used a personal credit card to cover these expenses, expecting to receive the Pell money, which the school instead applied to the tuition bill that the military did not pay.
“I’m really upset about this,” he said. “I have soldiers myself who don’t even want to enroll in school right now because this whole process has been a nightmare.
Other soldiers echoed in Facebook comments on the ArmyIgnitED page posts.
One soldier said his university was withholding his newly graduated degree because the military failed to pay the outstanding balance on his account.
Another said she was still waiting for the military to reimburse the school for the equivalent of two semesters of classes.
Some soldiers who paid out of pocket asked why the military couldn’t just reimburse them directly.
“[In accordance with Defense Department] policy, tuition assistance is being put in place to pay educational institutions directly, ”said Sarles. “There is no authority to reimburse soldiers for tuition fees directly.”
Sarles also said the military contacted individual educational institutions that asked soldiers to pay out of pocket. But an unknown number of soldiers paid anyway, fearing that they would lose their lessons or be unable to graduate.
The Hawaii-based non-commissioned officer said that tuition aid is too valuable a program for the military to let soldiers slip through the cracks.
“TA is one of the best things the military has to offer… and this whole ordeal has kept people from taking college courses and improving professionally,” he said. “I feel like someone dropped the ball a big time when they switched from GoArmyEd to the IgnitED system. And I feel like no one is really going to take the blame.