Lawmakers plan action on tuition aid for Iowa National Guard members

National Guard plans will reduce tuition aid from 90 to 50 percent

State lawmakers are promising swift action to cover tuition expenses for National Guard members attending Iowa colleges and universities.

The Iowa National Guard announced in December it is reducing the maximum Education Assistance Program award from 90 percent of tuition to 50 percent. That could be a loss of up to $1,300 per semester for students at Iowa’s regents’ universities. The cuts went into effect for the spring semester meaning Guard members currently enrolled in college classes will have to find other sources of assistance to pay their bills.

“We clearly need to fix this,” Iowa Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Daryl Beall, D-Fort Doge, said Monday, the first day of the 2012 legislative session.

Beall and his counterpart, House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Royd Chambers, R-Sheldon, are promising to take up the issue when their respective committees meet Jan. 11.

A record number of applicants for education assistance combined with flat state funding and rising tuition caused the Guard to reduce the award amounts to ensure all qualified applicants get some financial support, Col. Gregory Hapgood said.

“We thought the funding would be adequate,” Chambers said, “but the total number of students was underestimated.”

One short-term fix would be to use unencumbered funds appropriated to the Iowa College Student Aid Commission or other state agencies, Chambers said. If those funds are not sufficient, it is possible for the Legislature to approve a supplemental appropriation to cover the tuition assistance, added Rep. Cecil Dolecheck, R-Mount Ayr, who chairs the House Education Appropriations Subcommittee.

The University of Northern Iowa has committed about $117,000 this semester to cover the $1,300 reduction in tuition assistance. UNI will provide grants to more than 90 students, university officials said.

The University of Iowa and Iowa State University also are taking steps to help Guard members enrolled in those institutions, a regents’ spokesman said.

Some Guard members who were deployed more than once will be eligible for federal GI Bill benefits, Chambers said. That will decrease the amount of state funds needed.Guard officials say the assistance offered through the state tuition and homebuyers’ assistance programs have been essential to meeting and maintaining Guard recruiting and retention goals.