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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.

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“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.