12/20/2002 By Sgt. A. Lyn Bell, Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island
MARINE CORPS RECRUIT DEPOT/EASTERN RECRUITING REGION PARRIS ISLAND, S.C. —
The University of South Carolina, Beaufort, held the first Winter Convocation Dec. 6, and among those graduates gathered to be recognized for completing their bachelor's degrees during August and December was Sgt. Donald Maul.
Maul, an anti-tank assault guided missileman, working as a receptionist at the Douglas Visitors Center, completed his degree in Interdisciplinary Studies this month. His vehicles for achieving this goal were through financial aid from the Corps' tuition assistance and the Top-up Program offered through the Montgomery G.I. Bill.
"I've been on Parris Island for almost three years and started working on it about a month after I got here," said Maul, who had two years of college behind him before coming into the Marine Corps eight years ago.
After being accepted at USCB, Maul has been, "working diligently," to get his degree. "It was challenging to do it," said Maul who took classes at night, on weekends and on the Internet to complete his degree. "You do everything you can to knock it out whenever you can."
With a degree study focused on History and English, Maul sees his opportunity horizon expanding with the addition of a bachelor's degree to his list of accomplishments.
"I think the degree just makes you that much more marketable," Maul said. "Marines are a high commodity. It's just one more thing that makes you stand out."
The Marine Corps increased the tuition assistance program from 75 to 100 percent in October, allowing Marines to seek higher education marks while in service without the added out-of-pocket expense or tapping other financial assistances.
"I was not lucky enough to take advantage of the 100 percent tuition assistance," said Maul. "The whole two-and-half years I have been in school at USCB I have used the 75 percent tuition assistance and then I took the Top-up."
The Top-up program uses monies in the G.I. Bill fund to supplement the 75 percent tuition assistance. The Top-up supplement covered the additional 25 percent of the tuition, and though TA has now moved up to 100 percent, Top-up can still be used to supplement those course costs that exceed the TA cap of $250 per credit hour. Many service members don't want to tap into their G.I. Bill fund, but according to Maul, it doesn't use up that much.
"I still have 90 percent of my G. I. Bill available to put toward my master's degree later on in life," said Maul. Corporal Jeremy Diedalis, education councilor, agrees. He is approaching the end of his enlistment and though he used Top-up to cover tuition costs over TA, he still has the majority of his G.I. Bill left for continuing his education after the Corps.
"I leave the Marine Corps in June after I receive my associates degree in May," said Diedalis. "I plan to transfer to a four year university to complete my bachelor's degree in history. "People think it depletes the G.I. Bill, but it doesn't," said Diedalis of the Top-up program. "It just puts a small dent in it. Instead of having 36 months of tuition, now I have 35, which is still more than enough to complete my degree."
Diedalis also knows that putting off college is an even greater expense in the long run. "The only money I'm spending now is on my books," said Diedalis. "I know that having four years of service with an associates degree as well as a bachelor's degree will just make me that much more marketable in the civilian world."
Most Marines participating in the tuition assistance program ask, "Why pass up the opportunity to get college paid for?" Gunnery Sgt. Denver Alexander, education services officer, explains that the cost of college is an obsolete concern with tuition assistance and the Top-up program.
"The cap is $250 per credit hour," Alexander explained of the tuition assistance program. The cap for the year is $4,500, according to Alexander, pointing out some courses go over that amount, which the Top-up would still cover.
"The benefit, especially now, is the government is giving you $4,500 a year to get your degree," said Alexander. "So potentially, if someone gets on the ball and uses that benefit, when they get out, they have a degree and they don't have to worry about paying back a student loan."