FORT IRWIN • The majority of Fort Irwin soldiers enrolled in courses through Barstow Community College on base will not be affected by changes to the popular tuition assistance program, according to Fort Irwin Student Services Technician Robbie Evans.
Congress voted to reinstate the program when the House of Representatives approved a large spending bill on Thursday, according to a report by the Associated Press. The program was extended until the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.
Evans said soldiers at Fort Irwin are treated as in-state residents and most, therefore, qualify for the California Community Colleges Board of Governor's Fee Waiver. The grant program pays the $46/unit enrollment fees of community college students.
"We've done a good job of shifting our tuition assistance students to the California BOG waiver so the majority of our students aren't affected," he said.
He said the suspension actually resulted in a positive change for the BCC program because it increased BCC's enrollment as student soldiers re-evaluated the costs of other four-year programs on base. Soldiers not enrolled at the community college also have the option to attend Azusa Pacific University, Park University and Trident University among others, according to Evans.
"They started looking for more cost-effective programs and the education office shined a light on us and sent a lot of students our way," he said.
Combat Engineer Justin King said the decision to reinstate the program means he and other soldiers will not have to stress about how they will pay to attend college courses while in the Army.
"It's a burden lifted off of people. That way they can just get the degree and feel better about themselves," he said.
King said right before the suspension took effect he saw a line of 40 to 50 soldiers wanting to enroll in courses before the March 8 deadline at the BCC office.
"Suspending the program is stupid. Are they trying to kick us out? They're just giving soldiers a reason to leave the military," he said.
Last year the program provided $373 million to soldiers taking 620,000 courses, according to the military education website www.GoArmyEd.com.
Contact the writer: BSelf@DesertDispatch.com or 760-256-4123.