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Autumn A. Arnett

Nov. 3, 2014: The Air Force has made some changes to its tuition assistance program, but officials say the policy could still be evolving.

The previous section of the Military Tuition Assistance program that allowed for professional certification is being phased out for a new Air Force Credentialing Opportunities Online (AF COOL) program for enlisted members.

Under the previous program, airmen received assistance for tuition and fees related to a certificate program, up to $4,500 per fiscal year, but limited to a one-certification lifetime cap. So, for instance, if an airman enrolled in a course whose sum cost was $3,500, the additional $1,000 would be forfeited, AETC Education Services Specialist Edward Hodge told Air Force Magazine.

Under the new AF COOL program, the option to pay the tuition costs for certifications has been removed. Now, assistance will only be provided for the cost of certification exams and licensing fees, and those costs are still subject to a $4,500 lifetime cap. Additionally, airmen must pursue certifications related to their Air Force specialty code, another change from the previous program, which allowed courses under any code or discipline. Senior NCOs are eligible for leadership management credentialing programs, subject to the same lifetime cap.

AF COOL replaces part of the Military TA program, "but it doesn't provide the same benefits," Hodge said. "It's got [stricter] rules and it's set up differently."

Those currently enrolled in a Military TA program will have one year to complete their programs. For those who fail to complete their certifications by Oct 1, 2015, the Air Force will begin recoupment action and the airman will be responsible for repaying the funds.

In an Air Force document on guidance to the Military TA changes obtained by Air Force Magazine, the changes are attributed to a need for fiscal balance. In addition to the changes to the certificate program, airmen in academic courses are eligible for up to $4,500 per fiscal year and a maximum of $250 per semester hour (or quarter hour equivalent) for tuition.

Additionally, applications for tuition assistance must be received between 7-45 days before the start of the academic term, not by the class start date, a significant change from the previous policy.

For those enrolled in academic courses with a term start date of Oct. 1 or later, those receiving a C or below in graduate courses and a D or below in undergraduate courses will be required to reimburse TA funds, and if they fail to maintain the requisite B average for graduate and C average for undergraduate coursework, they will become ineligible for Military TA.

"Changes to TA policy will require airmen and supervisors to take a more active role in managing academic endeavors while maintaining mission requirements," said Susan Misener, acting deputy Installation Support, in an Oct. 16 release. "Now that TA is centralized, requirements have become more stringent and airmen must plan ahead and be prepared when they apply for TA."

All changes took effect Oct. 1 of this year, but Hodge said the policy is still developing. "There are some questions about the program that even we have," he said referring to members of Air Education and Training Command.