The key to staying Marine is usually education. The key to staying competitive, to reaching the next level is at the very least, to complete the Professional Military Education requirements at each rank. Unlike most of the civilian business sector, professional education for Marines is completely, absolutely, 100 percent free. Until now, however, Marines could expect to pay money out of their own pockets for personal education.
In the past, to continue with personal education at a college or university, a Marine had to pay 25 percent of the tuition. Relatively speaking, this is not much, but to many prospective students it's a large obstacle on the road to continuing education. Susan McIntosh, Quantico's education officer, said that's no longer a problem.
"With the new law, signed by former president Clinton, military students can now use tuition assistance along with their GI Bill," said McIntosh. "Effectively, that's 100 percent tuition. We pay 75 percent and the GI Bill pays the rest. This doesn't count against the GI Bill entitlement, it only takes money out of GI Bill funds.
"With the new increase, you now have $23,400 worth of benefits, no matter when you came in," added McIntosh. "While you're in, if you use $3,000 of those benefits, you'll still have more than $20,000 left when you get out and you will probably have a degree!"
Many Marines are aware of the tangible benefits the Corps has to offer, such as school seats, bonuses and secondary billets. On the other hand, the Corps also offers self-education, an intangible that offers Marines something they can feel: money.
"We've recently given out nine scholarships, five of which were awarded to MCB Quantico students, four Marine and one Army," said McIntosh. "That's more than 50 percent.
"I wanted to go to school but I wasn't aware of what was available," said Cpl. Michael Clements. "I didn't know too much about the education center when I was in Okinawa. I'm really disappointed I didn't start then, but now I know how simple it is. I constantly tell people about these opportunities. Even if you don't think you have the opportunity, go talk to your gunny or the Learning Center. Get as much education as you can while you're in the Marine Corps."
Clements is an intelligence analyst with the Special Marine Air Ground Task Force and has been going to George Mason the past year. He says 100 percent tuition can't be beat.
"Some people worry about the finances and some people worry about their education," said Clements. "The Marine Corps offers the best academic opportunities I've ever seen, and the people at the Learning Center make it so easy to do. If you don't have an education, stay in the Corps and take advantage. They're your benefits. Not only will the Corps give you job skills, the secondary skills you'll learn while in college are absolutely invaluable."
"This isn't for just a few classes," said McIntosh. "Our deal is to get you to graduation. Aside from your work experience, you'll have the academic skills that it takes to get into the workforce. Staying in, you'll be more competitive for promotion."
According to McIntosh no matter where the Corps sends you, an education is still a strong possibility.
"Nowadays anyone can go to school," said McIntosh. "Distance is no longer a problem. We have the internet, correspondence courses, CLEP tests and much more. You can now get a degree and never set foot on a campus."
"Even if you deploy a lot, you'll find out they're there for you as well," added Clements. "They want your education as much as you do. They recognize that we're Marines and they work with us."
"I would say this is an opportunity of a lifetime," said McIntosh. "A degree is a gift the Marine Corps can help you get that no one can take away."