Northeastern Is Cutting Active Military Members Some Slack

As the government shutdown continues, those relying on federal resources to sign up for classes won't be charged for enrollment.

In the midst of the government shutdown, Congress is playing “Russian Roulette” with the lives of more than two dozen active-duty service members enrolled at Northeastern University, according to Northeastern president Joseph Aoun. But the students are about to get a break when it comes to paying for courses.

On Sunday, Aoun and school administrators announced that they would not charge enlisted students that rely on tuition assistance, during the shutdown, in order to prevent a disruption in their education.

The Pentagon suspended the processing of Military Tuition Assistance program applications and funding for active-duty service men and women as a result of the government shutdown at the start of the month. More than 300,000 students nationwide risk losing funding for school because of the freeze. Roughly 100 service members are enrolled at Northeastern, but only a portion of those are at risk because of the shutdown. At Northeastern, some classes in the College of Professional Studies will be getting underway next week, which would leave about two dozen active duty students enrolled without tuition coverage because of the halted TA program, the suspension of which went into effect on October 1.

According to Navy officials, until funds are appropriated by Congress and the President signs it into law, tuition assistance cannot be authorized.

In a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Aoun said the move was unacceptable, and urged the Department of Defense to reverse its decision. “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 said in the letter, dated October 6.

Aoun said he was “dismayed” by reports from student service members that they should either backtrack their plans to enroll in classes beginning after October 1, or withdraw from their current programs. “We believe higher education has an obligation to contribute to the security of our nation, and to support the women and men of the armed forces who serve and protect us.”

But in order to allow students to continue their education, while the stalemate in Congress continues, no active duty member of the armed forces will be responsible for tuition charges incurred as a result of the shutdown for the time being, Aoun said in his strongly worded letter to Hagel.  “I respectfully urge you to instruct the services to continue processing TA applications immediately and to consider any alternate mechanisms available to you to ensure that no active duty personnel will have their studies disrupted,” he said.

Northeastern does not expect the shutdown to affect the rest of its students’ federal financial aid assistance, according to a report from the school. “Pell Grants and funds from the Direct Loan program will be disbursed on schedule, and the majority of the U.S. Department of Education’s customer service contact centers will remain open during the shutdown,” the report said.

Other universities and colleges aren’t experiencing the same issues because their schedules are different, according to officials. A spokesman from Boston College said that the school does have an ROTC program, however, they do not have any classes that begin after October 1, so the government shutdown does not affect BC in the same way it does Northeastern. “While future payments may be delayed, it will not affect the ROTC students’ ability to attend class,” said spokesman Jack Dunn, via email.

Boston University is also not impacted by the shutdown for similar reasons, a representative from the school said Wednesday.