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President Aoun urges Defense Dept. to restore military tuition assistance

Northeastern University President Joseph E. Aoun urged the Department of Defense on Sunday to reverse its decision to halt the processing of Military Tuition Assistance program applications in light of the government shutdown.

Upon learning of this situation, Northeastern took immediate action to contact its more than 100 active duty men and women currently enrolled as students and assured them that the university would provide whatever financial assistance was needed to prevent a disruption in their education.

Aoun, speaking on behalf of those active duty men and women, wrote a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in which he expressed dismay over reports the university heard late Friday evening from service members that some military branches have advised students not to enroll in classes beginning after Oct. 1, or to withdraw from their current programs.

“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.”

National service, Aoun noted, is deeply embedded in Northeastern’s values, pointing to its longstanding support for the Army ROTC program—one of the oldest and largest in New England—and its strong ongoing research collaborations with the Defense Department and the Department of Homeland Security, among other federal agencies. “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,” Aoun wrote.

“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,” Aoun added.

Last Monday evening, Congress failed to reach an agreement on a budget for the 2014 fiscal year, triggering the first federal government shutdown since 1996. However, Northeastern does not expect the shutdown to affect the rest of its students’ federal financial aid assistance. 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.

If the shutdown lasts longer than one week, the federal government will not make new disbursements of campus-​​based aid programs—including the Work-​​Study and Perkins Loan programs as well as the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant—but Northeastern will have the financial flexibility to manage the shortfall for the remainder of the fall semester at the least.

Aoun’s action continues his national leadership in addressing issues critical to higher education. He recently completed his one-year team as board chair of the American Council on Education, and he serves on an academic advisory council reporting directly to the homeland security secretary that examines how universities can contribute to America’s national security efforts. He has also coordinated efforts with other college presidents to support critical research funding in the Department of Homeland Security budget, to preserve federal financial aid funding for students, and to urge caution on regulation of unpaid internships at the federal level.

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