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Continued shutdown could cost military students

Thursday, October 3, 2013 | 6:55 p.m. CDT; updated 8:08 p.m. CDT, Thursday, October 3, 2013

COLUMBIA — The government shutdown freed up the weekend for Richard Saltzman, an MU undergraduate in forestry and a member of the Missouri National Guard.

It also cost him a paycheck.

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The shutdown that began Tuesday has indefinitely postponed the National Guard's monthly drills.

"Drill has been canceled until further notice, so as of right now I won't be getting paid this month," Saltzman said.

Not all military students who rely on federal funding to pay for college are losing tuition money just yet. But if the shutdown continues, students might face financial hardship enrolling for the next term.

Saltzman said he relies entirely on income from monthly drills, his work study job at the MU Veterans Center, a monthly consultant fee from MU and GI bill benefits. He could keep afloat on savings for about two months, he said.

"The thing that worries me is that all my income is from the federal government," Saltzman said.

Who is affected

Carol Fleisher, director of the MU Veterans Center, said two groups of students are affected. About 125 students who are in the reserves or the National Guard had their military tuition assistance, which comes from the Department of Defense, halted as of Tuesday.

"If you're a guardsman and you're attending MU ... and suddenly tuition assistance doesn't pay the university, then you may have to pay out of your pocket if you're going to stay in school," Fleisher said.

If the shutdown continues, the other group of about 250 who benefit from the GI Bill through the Veterans Administration will have their tuition assistance stopped as of Oct. 31, the next pay period, Fleisher said.

"The VA is existing on kind of found money they haven't used," Fleisher said. "That money will run out at the end of October."

At Columbia College, Mike Lederle, assistant dean of Military and Federal Programs, said about 25 percent of students nationwide, or between about 7,500 and 7,750, are active military. That includes students at the main campus in Columbia, the school's online campus and its 35 locations, a number of which are on military bases.

The extent to which military tuition assistance, or MTA, is affected right now depends on which branch of the service is involved, Lederle said. The Navy is delaying approving MTA. The Army is rejecting MTA on a daily basis, while the Air Force and Marines have rejected all MTA effective Oct. 1, he said.

"For GoArmyEd, even if I was approved for MTA on Sept. 15 for the 21st of October, I will not know for sure until the 21st of October if I still have it — if the shutdown goes that long," Lederle said.

He used that date because that is when the college's next eight-week session begins. Other affected students are enrolled in the traditional 16-week semester, and their military tuition assistance was approved before the shutdown started.

Lederle said another way in which the shutdown is evident is the ability of prospective students to get education counseling, which is often a requirement to seeking military tuition assistance.

Helping military students

Columbia College announced Tuesday that it will offer a six-month repayment plan to students who are eligible for military tuition assistance and who have applied for or have on file a current Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA.

"We understand the challenges that are out there right now," Lederle said. "We want to provide a service to them."

MU will also assist military students in the event of an extended shutdown, Fleisher said.

"MU will work with the students who are getting tuition assistance, and they are aware the students are not receiving assistance presently," she said.

Students should begin seeking other financial aid in the meantime, Lederle said. He said he recommends they apply for grants first, then loans as a last resort.

"Those who are dedicated to continuing their education will find a way," Lederle said.

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.


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Comments

Julia Bush October 4, 2013 | 3:09 p.m.

Hi! This is Julia Bush, the reporter on the story. I asked Carol Fleisher about your question. She said that right now, payments are being made on a case-by-case basis.
The DOD first said they were not paying. Now, if the request for the money came before Oct. 1, it will be honored. She said it's not a case of funding being passed -- it depends on when the individual funding was requested.
Like you said, this only applies to the tuition payments to members of the National Guard and reserves. I hope that helped!

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