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Service Members Lose Tuition Assistance

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Many service members join the military because they’re eligible for tuition assistance and the GI Bill. But service members are losing these educational benefits because of federal budget cuts.

Michael Sanzo signed up in 2004 as an Army infantryman. 

"I knew when I was 18, 19 years old that I wasn’t ready for college. I had no way to pay for it. So I made a decision. Cause I knew how important it was to have a degree."

He was deployed twice to Iraq and eventually made Sergeant. After returning to Connecticut in 2009, Sanzo enrolled at Post University in Waterbury. 

"I have 100% tuition assistance. I don’t pay anything." 

The Department of Defense tuition assistance program has offered service members up to $4,500 in a federal fiscal year to pay for college courses.

Post University serves more than 4,000 military-related students - veterans, active duty service members and their dependents. Many get their degrees online. 

"In fact we have current students who are in Afghanistan taking classes with us online." 

Retired Army Lt. Colonel Ed Lizotte is director of military programs at Post. He says the loss of tuition assistance will make it tough for service members to pay for higher education. 

"The army, the marines, the air force and the coast guard have suspended those benefits because of sequestration. The Navy has yet to make a formal announcement as to what their plans are." 

Members of the military can turn to the GI bill, but many have transferred that benefit to their dependents so they’d have to take the money away from their spouses or children.

Michael Sanzo graduates this May with a degree in criminal justice. 

"No one in my family has ever graduated college. As far as I know I’m going to be the first one. Ever."

Meanwhile lawmakers in Washington say they hope to reinstate the program.

Diane Orson is a special correspondent with Connecticut Public. She is a longtime reporter and contributor to National Public Radio. Her stories have been heard on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Weekend Edition and Here And Now. Diane spent seven years as CT Public Radio's local host for Morning Edition.

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