'Relief' fund frees financial future;Spouses hit payday for college tuition assistance

Sep 16, 2002

9/16/2002 By Lance Cpl. Trevor M. Carlee, Marine Corps Base Camp Butler 

After almost six years away from school, Ana Fletcher now returns to college without that chip on her shoulder of having to completely pay for class.

She has signed up for the Spouses Tuition Assistance Program to give her a little support with the finances that go hand-in-hand with school.

Along with many other programs available to the military community, the Navy Marine Corps Relief Society encompassed STAP in order to assist the spouses of Marines and Sailors who need financial help when it comes to school.

The tuition assistance provided to the spouses offers up to half the cost of their tuition, granted it doesn't surmount $300 per undergraduate term or $350 per graduate term.  However, it isn't guaranteed to everyone.

"We want everyone to benefit from this program," said Sam Lewis, director, Navy Marine Corps Relief Society here.  "But we only have a defined amount of funds open to the spouses.  I can not stress enough that this is a need-based program."

The program offers the money only to those who are eligible.  Lewis said that after the initial sign up process before the term starts, the applicants undergo an interview with trained NMCRS caseworkers.  The interview is conducted to determine whether or not they fit the criteria necessary for them to qualify for the assistance.

Even though tuition assistance is a great benefit, Lewis explained that it might not help those people who did not have enough money to pay their current bills.   He also added, though, that if an applicant makes too much money, they are not eligible as well for the reason that they don't need the assistance.

"The program is like a window," Lewis continued.  "If you're too big, you can't fit through it.   If you're too small, you can't get up to it."

As one term is completed, another application must be filled out in order to receive tuition assistance for the following term, according to Lewis.  He explained that the reasoning for this is so that appropriate changes can be made in case someone becomes unqualified for tuition assistance within the term (i.e. getting a promotion or new job with higher pay).

"We aren't out to stop people from getting the assistance," Lewis explained.  "We just want to make sure the right people are getting the help they need."

In addition to meeting the qualifying standards for the continued assistance with STAP throughout the following terms, the student must maintain a grade of C or higher for undergraduates and a B or higher for graduates.  If the grade minimum is not achieved by the end of the term, the spouse cannot apply for another term until the following one has passed.

Lewis explained that the point of the grade rule is that it just lets people know that if they don't want to spend their time and earn their grade, someone else who is eligible and deserves it will get the assistance instead.

"If people treat the assistance like it doesn't matter and fall below the grade minimum, there are plenty of people waiting in line for the chance," Lewis continued.

The money provided to support STAP came from the interest earned in the society's reserve fund, Lewis said.  So the money still isn't coming out of the servicemembers pockets.

"We want to make sure people understand that the money provided for STAP is not comprised of contributions from Sailors and Marines," Lewis said.

The program's goal, according to Lewis, is to make life a little easier on the spouses of Sailors and Marines.

"Whatever help you can get is good help," said Fletcher, a Long Island, N.Y., native.  "I am very relieved that I was afforded the opportunity to take advantage of this program and get back into school.  The relief society really helps."

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