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The Army's popular Tuition Assistance program is being suspended because of the budget squeeze, although the many thousands of soldiers currently enrolled in courses will be allowed to complete those courses.

The shutdown will begin at 5 p.m. Eastern Standard Time today.

About 200,000 soldiers are currently using tuition assistance.

Soldiers will not be allowed to enroll in TA-funded courses after that deadline, according to Lt. Col. Tom Alexander, spokesman for the Army's personnel chief.

"Soldiers who are in courses now can complete those courses, but they will not be allowed to enroll in new courses," he said.

"This suspension is necessary given the significant budget execution challenges caused by the combined effects of a possible year-long continuing resolution and sequestration," Alexander said.

"The Army understands the effects of this action and will re-evaluate should the budget situation improve," he said.

The Tuition Assistance program is one of the Army's most popular in-service benefits, with some 201,000 Regular Army, National Guard and Army Reserve soldiers participating in traditional classroom and online courses at 3,100 colleges and universities nationwide.

During fiscal 2012, the Army spent $373 million for tuition assistance payments.

Under the TA payment formula, payments are capped at $250 per semester hour of instruction, for up to an annual total of $4,500.

While the TA program is suspended, soldiers can pursue education goals using their VA benefits, if eligible, that include the Montgomery GI Bill-Active Duty, Montgomery Bill-Selected Reserve, Reserve Assistance Program and the Post 9/11 GI Bill.

Other education funding sources also may be appropriate, such as grants, scholarships and the state tuition assistance programs available to some National Guard soldiers.

Pentagon officials strongly urge soldiers affected by the TA shutdown to contact their local Army education center to assess their options.

Updated information also will be posted by GoArmyEd, the online application for managing the TA program at www.goarmyed.com.

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