Active-duty Marines who want to pursue an education in 2016 will find favorable conditions. with a keen eye for intellectual pursuits.

The Marine Corps tuition assistance programtuition assistance program is on track this year to offer qualified Marines a substantial leg up with their academic investments, even as the slow train of federal funding lumbers toward approval.

The service's tuition assistance budget for the first quarter of fiscal year 2016 was capped at $7 million — $6,146,926 spent as of Nov. 6 — under a continuing resolution authority passed by Congress in September, which expired Dec. 11.

But legislators  passed a $1.15 trillion spending package Dec. 18 that funds the government through next, clearing the way for the tuition assistance program to remain stable in the fiscally constrained operating environment.

"There were no new policy changes implemented for [fiscal year] 2016," said Shawn Conlon, branch head of Personal and Professional Development, Marine and Family Programs Division. "The policies outlined in MCO 1560.25 and Marine Corps administrative message 687/14 remain in effect."

Chart: The seven-year decline in the tuition assistance budget

This is good news for Marines who want to participate in the Department of Defense program, which offers $250 per semester hour and up to $4,500 per year for higher education.

Last year saw a tightening of the reins as the program introduced stricter requirements, including an obligation for Marines to pay back money on courses unsuccessfully completed.

The year ahead will also bring a leveling off of the budget reductions in the programcuts to the program, in tandem with the end of the drawdown: the tuition assistance program operated with a $34 million budget for 2015, roughly half of the $66 million allocated in 2009.

This echoes the commitment to the tuition assistance program voiced by Gen. Joseph Dunford, who has since become chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during his confirmation hearings to become the 36th commandant of the Marine Corps in July 2014.

"Encouraging well-qualified Marines to utilize resources to better themselves via education and training is part of the Marine Corps ethos," Dunford said. "This leads to better Marines and in turn better citizens."

Marines interested in the tuition assistance program need to be eligible for promotion and have at least two years in service, as well as an EAS date no earlier than 60 days after completing a course. A grade of "C" or above for undergraduate classes, or a "B" or above for graduate courses, is also required.

The financial assistance provided covers tuition, but not associated costs such as books, lab fees or incidental expenses.

Marines applying to the program for the first time also need to complete the Marine Corps Institute personal financial management course, 3420G.

"Marines are encouraged to participate in all appropriate personal and professional development programs, including other educational funding options such as the GI Bills, grants, scholarships and loans that can support a broader continuum of learning and educational goals," Conlon said.

The primary point of contact for these programs are local education service officers, Conlon said.

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