By Joyce M. Peterson, Barden Education Center, education services specialist
Have you heard the old adage, "Don't put off today for tomorrow" or "Stop procrastinating and move on with life?"
Obstacles and challenges will come, but how you handle those situations will determine if you will move forward or be left behind. Because of current fiscal challenges the Secretary of the Army approved the suspension of the Army Tuition Assistance program, March 8. The suspension applied to all components, active Army, Army Reserve and National Guard Soldiers. This news hit many Soldiers who have taken advantage of using TA very hard, especially those who had funding remaining in their www.GoArmyEd.com account that could have been used to complete their degrees during this fiscal year. Soldiers who never used TA were trying to activate their education record and process TA but did not meet the deadline. Soldiers who visited, emailed or called Barden Counselors asked one main question, "How can I continue to pursue my education without TA?"
There are many financial resource options and educational opportunities available for Soldiers to off-set the cost of pursuing their education. Besides TA, there are Department of Veterans Affairs benefits which include the Post 9/11 GI Bill (Chapter 33), the Montgomery GI Bill-Active Duty, (Chapter 30), the Montgomery GI Bill-Selected Reserve (Chapter 1606), and the Reserve Education Assistance Program (Chapter 1607). All of these are available for eligible Soldiers. To request VA benefits, go to www.gibill.va.gov and click on the Apply For Benefits link. As a reminder, National Guard Soldiers may also be eligible for state Tuition Assistance benefits.
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid offers federal student aid in the form of grants and low interest loans. Grants are free funding, but loans have to be repaid after completing school. The FAFSA application can be completed online at www.fafsa.gov. Most states provide a Tuition Assistance Grant for residents who are attending private colleges or universities. To find out if your state is offering a TAG, go to Google or Yahoo.com and put in the search box: the name of your state TAG. For the state of Virginia, go to website: www.schev.edu/students/factsheet vtag.asp for more information.
Scholarships offer free money and usually are awarded based on academic achievement or financial need. Each group awarding a scholarship has their own eligibility requirements. Available at Barden for your review, is the current 2012-2014 Financial Aid for Veterans, Military Personnel and Their Families publication. This book provides a wealth of information on grants, scholarships and fellowships. Each counselor can also provide you with information on scholarships and other financial aid programs available.
The most commonly known loan is the Stafford Federally Subsidized loan program that can be used at all institutions. The Unsubsidized loan is available to all students who do not qualify for the subsidized loan. The Perkins Loans are very low-interest loans that are available to the most needy students. Please try to make loans your last resort, because repayment is always required. Books on various loans are also available at Barden.
On-post schools at the Barden Education Center are offering a variety of financial resources to assist Soldiers in continuing their education. Some of the aid includes Wounded Warrior Scholarships, Endowed Scholarships for particular programs, i.e.: Nursing, Engineering, Music, and Teacher Grants. There are payment plan options such as Emergency Military Scholarships which can be used when several other listed financial options have been exhausted. For more information, students are encouraged to visit their College Representative.
The Barden National Testing Center offers free 33 CLEP (College Level Examination Program) and 38 Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support (DANTES) Subject Standardized Tests exams. These exams are funded by DANTES and each first test attempt is free to all eligible military personnel, some civilians and spouses. Passing these exams will enable Soldiers to earn promotion points and earn college credit that can help accelerate completion of their degree. Some Army Personnel exams such as the Defense Language Proficiency Test, can also award college credit and help with promotion points. For more information, call (703) 805-9261.
Other educational opportunities include the Barden Multi-Use Learning Facility that provides CLEP, DSST and other study hand-out materials on various websites. Computers are available to help patrons do research to stimulate independent study for professional and personal development, complete homework assignments, take distance learning training and check email messages. The Functional Army Skills Training provides Soldiers remedial reading, writing and math skills to meet the Army's required 110 General Technical score. FAST classes are taught every month at Fort Belvoir or Fort Myer.
Achieving your educational goals represents you, your ability to learn and your determination to prepare for a better life. Not only will you benefit, you will have the credentials for leadership opportunities, promotions with a higher salary, expanded career fields and enhanced job security.
I challenge Soldiers to take advantage of all educational opportunities available at the Barden Education Center and ask Fort Belvoir commanders and leaders to encourage military personnel to set educational goals, make the commitment and follow through. Remember, an educated Army is a Strong Army. Barden is open Monday through Friday; 7 a.m. -- 4 p.m. and every staff member is available and willing to help you. For more information, call (703) 805-9259/9268/9270 or come to the center for assistance.