A month and a half after missing its original deadline to sign an agreement giving service members tuition assistance, a University of Arizona official says they are closer to resolving the impasse that left many students saying they would have to leave UA.
Both Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University signed the agreement with the U.S. Department of Defense before the original Jan. 1 deadline. Because of problems, some universities were having, DoD set a new deadline of March 30, which UA officials say they hope to meet.
The tuition assistance program grants each student $4,500 per year, according to the Defense Department.
UA South CEO James Shockey, who is facilitating discussions with the Defense Department, anticipates that the paperwork will be completed within the next 10 days.
One reason that UA has so far refused to sign the document is because the language of the document could be interpreted in different ways, Shockey said.
“There is a whole array of issues that weren’t as clearly stated in the MOU as we would have liked,” he said.
A major issue for the hold up is the way that the Defense Department wants universities to handle credit transfers, he said.
Universities can specify how many credits have to be taken at the institution in order to receive a degree, he said.
The change that the Defense Department outlines is that a service member might have taken a year’s worth of credits at UA and then transfer to another school, but in the end could still be eligible for a UA degree, Shockey said.
NAU and ASU officials say that for their schools there was never a problem in signing the document.
“We weren’t intimidated or concerned in any way of credit transfers,” said retired Army Ltc. Andrew Griffin, NAU director of the office of military and veteran’s affairs.
ASU also signed on to the MOU.
“We went through it point by point and at least for ASU, most of the requirements we had already in place,” said Randy Spenla, the executive director of student business services, which handles all the billing and reimbursement for military tuition assistance.
In addition, he said that not signing the agreement would put service members using tuition assistance in a bad spot.
UA and other land grant universities are looking for continuing dialogue, Shockey said. “No one is disagreeing. We all want to protect and benefit the military students,” he said. “We are hoping that we can work out the differences.”
Service members say that by not signing the document UA is handing them the short stick.
UA is definitely screwing military students if the document is not signed, said Tiffany McClain, a 22-year-old UA operations management junior and Arizona National Guard soldier.
McClain has considered transferring schools out of financial reasons. She had to take out more loans than she usually has to.
“I wouldn’t have come here in the first place if I knew that TA (tuition assistance) would be taken away after a year and a half,” she added.
It is not only universities that are at fault, but also politicians, said retired airman Kyle Blessinger, a UA senior. Although not directly effected by the document, he is trying to find answers for UA service members, but this turned out harder than he thought.
“It shouldn’t matter what the red tape is,” Blessinger said. “Lets do whatever it takes to get them (service members) educated,” he said.