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Tuition Assistance Top-Up Program

Tuition assistance helps servicemembers pursue a civilian education while serving on active duty. Tuition assistance provides funding for college courses taken during off-duty hours, and it often covers most or all of the tuition and other expenses of these courses. However, in many cases, the tuition and fees for courses are more than the maximum provided by tuition assistance. This leaves the student paying for some of these expenses out of his own pocket. In 2000, the Tuition Assistance Top-Up Program was introduced, which creates one method of reducing those expenses.

The Tuition Assistance Top-Up Program allows servicemembers who are using tuition assistance and who are eligible for the GI Bill to use their GI Bill benefits to pay for any remaining expenses of their education beyond what tuition assistance covers. This uses up months of GI Bill benefits, but allows the student to fund an education that might otherwise be out of reach. The same amendment that added the authorization for the Tuition Assistance Top-Up Program also allows the services to provide up to 100 percent tuition through their tuition assistance programs. Together, this adds up to a lot more servicemembers who are able to pursue a college education.

Who Is Eligible for the Tuition Assistance Top-Up Program?

The Tuition Assistance Top-Up Program can be used by any servicemember currently using tuition assistance (provided by the individual service) who is also eligible for either the Montgomery GI Bill - Active Duty or the Post-9/11 GI Bill. The Montgomery GI Bill - Selected Reserve cannot currently be used in Tuition Assistance Top-Up.

This does mean that not all students using tuition assistance can take advantage of the Tuition Assistance Top-Up Program. Specifically, it can only be used by servicemembers who have served at least two years of active duty. In addition to this, one must normally serve at least three full years of active duty to be eligible for full benefits under the GI Bill in most cases.

What Does Tuition Assistance Top-Up Cover?

The Tuition Assistance Top-Up program pays for whatever portion of a college course's tuition and fees not covered by tuition assistance. If the total expense of the courses is greater than TA will cover, then the VA provides the funding for the difference, and subtracts from the student's remaining GI Bill benefits. The amount of benefits charged under Top-Up is the duration of the course.

For example, let's say that a student takes a three month course that costs $375 per credit hour. Tuition assistance only covers up to $225 per credit hour. This leaves $150 per credit hour (that's $450 for a 3-credit course) for the student to pay out of his own pocket. This is quite possible for courses at the masters' degree level, and for more expensive universities. If the student applies for Tuition Assistance Top-Up, then the VA provides that $450, and reduces the student's remaining months of GI Bill benefits by three months.

In another example, let's say that a student takes a course that costs $225 per credit hour, or less. However, the tuition of the course will take the total tuition assistance he has received that year to over $4,500. Since tuition assistance only provides a maximum of $4,500 per fiscal year, he would have to provide the difference himself. However, he can elect to apply for Tuition Assistant Top-Up, which would pay for the difference. His GI Bill entitlement would be reduced by the duration of the course.

How Do I Apply for the Tuition Assistance Top-Up Program?

Servicemembers typically apply for the Tuition Assistance Top-Up Program in the same manner they apply for tuition assistance. In many cases, this is accomplished through the installation's base education center or college office. If the education center doesn't handle it, apply through the Department of Veterans' Affairs. Because Tuition Assistance is administered by the individual services, each service determines the details on the use of Tuition Assistance Top-Up.

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