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A lesson in generosity

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Score a big one for Jefferson Community College.

The two-week partial shutdown of the federal government jeopardized the efforts of U.S. armed forces members to pursue college degrees. The tuition assistance program offered by the U.S. Army was put on hold until the gridlock in Washington was resolved.

The Army pays up to $250 per credit hour for soldiers taking college courses. This is good for active duty, National Guard and Reservist personnel, and the Army has a limit of $4,500 per year.

GoArmyEd.com, the Army website through which tuition assistance applications can be made, offered the following notice last week prior to the funding deal being passed in Congress on Wednesday:

“Even though the majority of [Department of Defense] civilian employees have returned to work on [Oct. 7], TA funds are still not available since Congress has not passed a funding bill. Senior leadership of the Army is fully aware of and concerned about the impact on soldiers as the Army Continuing Education System office reports daily the number of soldiers who are denied TA along with the number of courses that are unfunded. Denied TA requests for classes with start dates during the budget impasse period will not be reinstated or reimbursed. Once Congress passes the budget, only those classes with start dates after TA has been reinstated will be approved. We do not anticipate any lag between the time of the congressional budget approval and the reinstatement of TA. We regret the impact this is having on soldiers.”

This meant the Army wouldn’t approve tuition assistance applications until Capitol Hill came to its senses. It initially looked like the program didn’t work on IOUs.

For Fort Drum soldiers enrolled at JCC, this would be problematic. Some of them take courses on the school’s campus, but most either use classroom space on their post or study online.

To continue classes for the late fall session at JCC, soldiers had to be signed up Thursday. The Army pledged to process applications if the budget deal was wrapped up sometime Wednesday, but the late congressional sessions made this unlikely. Soldiers at Fort Drum, then, would be forced to skip the late fall session at JCC if they were relying on the tuition assistance program.

As it turned out, the Army decided to go ahead and process tuition assistance applications for soldiers talking classes in the fall. This means it will pay the costs for Fort Drum soldiers signed up at JCC for courses that had already begun.

Before the Army clarified that it would approve tuition assistance applications, officials at JCC offered to absorb the cost for these soldiers. With 132 soldiers signed up for a total of 403 credit hours, this came to $64,883 that would have been picked up by the school given the $161 per credit hour cost.

But that’s not all. With their tuitions taken care of, the soldiers would be charged a fee of $1 per credit hour — a modest sum. JCC faculty and staff members, however, passed the hat among themselves to see that even these expenses would be covered on behalf of the soldiers.

Even though they won’t have to eat the costs, these were extraordinary offers on the part of JCC officials, faculty and staffers. They went beyond the call to ensure that military personnel at Fort Drum would not have to disrupt their educational pursuits just because elected officials in Washington can’t do their jobs.

JCC deserves a lot of credit for stepping up for our local soldiers. This action embodies the sense of community reflected in the school’s name.

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