Congressional delegation backs Northeastern push to restore military tuition aid

Prompted by North­eastern Pres­i­dent Joseph E. Aoun’s recent letter urging Defense Sec­re­tary Chuck Hagel to rein­state mil­i­tary tuition assis­tance for active duty stu­dents, the Mass­a­chu­setts con­gres­sional del­e­ga­tion joined forces to push for the same.

U.S. Rep. Joseph. P. Kennedy III, D-​​Mass., spear­headed the delegation’s effort to sup­port Northeastern’s lead­er­ship on this issue. In addi­tion to the House del­e­ga­tion, both of the state’s U.S. sen­a­tors, Edward Markey and Eliz­a­beth Warren, signed the letter.

“Pres­i­dent Aoun of North­eastern Uni­ver­sity wrote ear­lier this week that over 100 North­eastern stu­dents are cur­rently serving on active duty, and many have received counsel not to enroll in courses begin­ning after October 1, or to with­draw from their cur­rent pro­grams of study due to lapse in gov­ern­ment funding,” the mem­bers wrote in a letter to Hagel on Oct. 11.

“As the Armed Ser­vices main­tain an all-​​volunteer force, (tuition assis­tance) is an impor­tant recruit­ment tool that attracts tal­ented and moti­vated high school grad­u­ates to mil­i­tary ser­vice,” they con­tinued. “These indi­vid­uals and their fam­i­lies deserve the same unques­tioning loy­alty that they demon­strate to their fellow Amer­i­cans through their ser­vice. They deserve to know that they will receive the ben­e­fits they have earned and that we will keep the promises we have made to them.”

Upon learning that Mil­i­tary Tuition Assis­tance Pro­gram appli­ca­tions weren’t being processed because of the gov­ern­ment shut­down, North­eastern took imme­diate action to con­tact its more than 100 active duty men and women cur­rently enrolled and assured them the uni­ver­sity would pro­vide what­ever finan­cial assis­tance was needed to pre­vent a dis­rup­tion in their education.

In his Oct. 6 letter to Hagel, Aoun noted Northeastern’s long­standing com­mit­ment to sup­porting and edu­cating the nation’s vet­erans and mil­i­tary per­sonnel, and its strong ongoing research col­lab­o­ra­tions with fed­eral agen­cies. The letter received a host of local and national cov­erage, including in The Boston Globe U.S. News & World Report and The Chron­icle of Higher Edu­ca­tion .

“Our active duty mil­i­tary, Reserve, and National Guard mem­bers who put their lives on the line to pro­tect us deserve far better from their country than to be pre­vented from accessing the higher edu­ca­tion ben­e­fits they were promised,” Aoun wrote. “Surely DoD has existing capacity during the gov­ern­ment shut­down to review, process, and approve on a con­tin­gent basis pending TA appli­ca­tions that meet cur­rent pro­gram guide­lines. This seems all the more likely in light of recent action by Con­gress to pay civilian employees retroactively—a mea­sure Pres­i­dent Obama has pledged to sign into law.”

In its letter last Friday, the con­gres­sional del­e­ga­tion urged the Defense Depart­ment to con­tinue reviewing, pro­cessing, and approving tuition assis­tance appli­ca­tions on a con­tin­gent basis as Wash­ington leaders work to bring an end to the shut­down. They also lauded Northeastern’s deci­sion to absorb any finan­cial burden its enrolled active duty ser­vice mem­bers may face.

“We applaud (Northeastern’s) deci­sion, but we know it was a tough one,” they wrote. “We hope that it will not become a finan­cial tradeoff faced by col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties around the country in the coming days.”

Uni­ver­sity offi­cials do not expect the shut­down to affect the rest of its stu­dents’ fed­eral finan­cial aid assis­tance this semester. Pell Grants and funds from the direct loan pro­gram will be dis­bursed on schedule, while the majority of the U.S. Depart­ment of Education’s cus­tomer ser­vice con­tact cen­ters will remain open.