By Spc. Stephanie Willer
GuardPost Staff Writer
3 November, 2003 = What’s the bottom line on the National Guard funding your education? You might be asking yourself this very question. There are many programs that a Virginia Army National Guard (VaARNG) soldier can utilize; however, it may be difficult and, quite frankly, a puzzle to make all of the resources out there fit together perfectly and fulfill a soldier’s educational needs.
The VaARNG Education Service Office (ESO) has been working diligently to get the word out to soldiers and units about these programs and the benefits currently available to soldiers in the Guard. Depending on your military status and educational goals, there are a few different programs worth looking into. Some of the main providers include; the State Tuition Assistance Program (STAP), the Army National Guard Federal Tuition Assistance Program (FTAP), and the Montgomery GI Bill for Selective Reserve (MGIB-SR), which recently has undergone a few changes including the GI Bill Kicker program, which would depend on your Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) qualifications.
Most of the programs only cover tuition cost. STAP offer 100% tuition costs at most Virginia State supported schools, that is, if funds are available. Funding is based on a first-come-first-serve basis. When funds have been exhausted, soldiers will need to find other financial resources. There is a cap on funding of $2,100.00 per semester and $4,200.00 per year that soldiers need to be aware of. STAP can be used for private schools but will not cover 100% of tuition. In addition, STAP requires that a soldier make a two-year enlistment commitment that extends beyond the last semester of school funded by STAP. On the federal funding side, soldiers can make use of the FTAP.
You might not know this but soldiers are eligible for benefits immediately after enlistment. The FTAP is a little different than STAP in that students are covered up to 75% of their tuition costs, not to exceed $4000.00 per year. In addition, there is a $200.00 per credit-hour cap. Students are also eligible to receive up to $500 per year toward fees charged to all students for enrollment purposes or fees directly related to the instruction of the course. FTAP can be applied to a course or program taken at a regionally or nationally accredited, public or private college, university, vocational, technical or trade school located inside or outside the Commonwealth of Virginia. “However, the key word to look for is ‘accredited’,” said Maj. Ronald G. Lee, previously the state education services officer for VaARNG, who has since been replaced by 1st Lt. Jeremy M. Serafin.
To meet the accredited criteria, the institution must be recognized by the American Council on Education (ACE). All of the institutions recognized, can be found in the most recent edition of the Accredited Institutions of Postsecondary Education (AIPE), which is published by the ACE. The state and federally funded programs have submission deadlines that are stringent. The Fall Term Deadline is Jul. 1, while the Spring Term Deadline is Nov. 1 In addition, if you want to take summer classes, there is funding in most cases, however, the deadline in April 1. Paperwork must be turned in by these dates or you will not be eligible for assistance.
Now what piece of the puzzle does the MGIB-SR fill? Well, as long as you are a selective reserve soldier, have applied for the Montgomery GI Bill when you enlisted, have completed your Advanced Individual Training (AIT) and are MOS qualified, then you are eligible for funding for up to 14 years from the date of your original signed Notice of Basic Eligibility (NOBE). The NOBE usually coincides with a 6-year initial enlistment contract. Payments go directly to the soldier, which helps to cover other expenses such as books, fees, and any other incidentals related to you education. For full-time enrollment, MGIB pays $276.00 per month for up to 36 months. That equates to almost $10,000 in educational benefits. This program can be used in conjunction with FTAP or STAP. The school needs to be notified of your intention to use your MGIB. Most schools will have a military liaison or Veteran Affairs officer to help guide you through this process. As long as the points of contact have been established, you’re good to go, soldier!
Now that the Guard is covering almost of all of your education cost, what’s the Kicker? Depending on the specialty of the unit you are thinking of joining, the Kicker program is incentive based. You need to apply and must qualify to receive the benefit, which is an additional $200 per month for 36 months if you are a full-time student. The guidelines are the same as the MGIB, and you will also need to have a contract specifically to cover the Kicker.
According to Maj. Ronald Lee, “Getting the word out helps soldiers in pursuing their educational goals, and we’re here to help.”
Soldiers can also receive FTAP for distance learning courses. The DANTES Distance Learning Program provides a wide range of education opportunities for Guard members who are unable to attend a classroom due to work and family commitments. All distance-learning degrees are must also be accredited and are offered by institutions throughout the United States. Programs include certificate, associate, bachelors, and masters degrees, in addition to a wide variety of trade school and vocational technical programs. All of the guidelines are the same concerning funding.
Information concerning distance learning can be found on the DANTES website where you will find three types of catalog listings; external, independent or nationally accredited distance learning programs. According to the DANTES website, “these programs provide a wide range of educational opportunities, which include gunsmithing, pet-grooming, bar tending and much more.”
The viability of these programs depends on the amount of funding provided to the National Guard each fiscal year. Currently, with the need for educational funding being so great, you may want to ensure that you assist in making all these pieces fit together. The education office needs your help in making sure all your paperwork is submitted in a timely manner … deadlines, deadlines!
In addition, make sure the paperwork is filled out correctly. If you do your part, then you will give yourself the opportunity to get a formal education with the Guard picking up the tab