I MEF Marines struggle with cuts

21 Oct 2011 | Cpl. Kenneth Jasik

Marines attempting to go to school while on active duty lost a majority of their educational opportunities according to a Marine Administrative Message released Oct. 17.

Marines are now offered less than a quarter of the educational funding previously available. The individual annual financial assistance cap dropped from $3,500 to $875.

Many junior Marines may qualify for a Pell Grant, which is federal financial aid provided for students with low income levels, but Marines who don’t qualify for scholarships or federal financial aid will likely have to pay out of pocket.

“There is financial aid, the GI Bill, and there are scholarships available, but beyond that, Marines will have to pay out of pocket,” said Pat Jeffers, the educational service officer branch manager at the Camp Pendleton Joint Education Center. “More often than not, because of the money they make, junior Marines qualify for the Pell Grants.”

Several forms of financial aid are available for service members, but many Marines enrolled in more expensive, distance learning schools may have to transfer to a local junior college.

“If Marines decide to go to in-state schools they will pay appreciably less, and perhaps won’t need to pay out of pocket,” said Jeffers, who added that some schools near Camp Pendleton offer classes to service members at rates of $36 per credit hour.

However, taking less expensive classes does not mean more will be paid for by the Marine Corps. The TA policy change did not only slash the amount of money, but also stated that it will only support up to five credit hours a year. Most college courses are three credits, so Marines will have less than two classes paid for by the Marine Corps. Many Marines who use TA planned on transferring their GI Bill to a family member, but this policy change could mean the Marines would be compelled to decide who would have a college education.

“I used TA to be able to get an education without touching my GI Bill, which I paid into,” said Staff Sgt. Bradley P. Broussard, an administration chief with Special Operations Training Group. “If I ever decided to get married or have a kid, I could transfer my GI Bill, and that’s very appealing.”

For Marines in the middle of their educational goals, this is a curveball for which they did not plan. Another change in the MARADMIN limits service members to obtain only one degree or certificate using tuition assistance.

“I’m on my last class for my master’s [degree,] and I was planning on going to school for my doctorate starting next month,” said Master Sgt. Marcus Cook, career planner, I Marine Headquarters Group.

The situation is particularly tough for senior Marines, many of whom planned on transferring their benefits.

“A lot of Marines will have to ask, ‘Do I transfer it to my dependents, or do I go to school using my Post 9-11 GI Bill,’” said Cook, 41, from Youngstown, Ohio. “Marines should read the MARADMIN carefully to make an informed decision before they choose to use the Post 9-11 GI bill.”

The Marine Corps’ deployment cycle may also weigh on Marines’ education goals.

“I think it’s going to have an adverse effect on a lot of Marines,” said Broussard, 27, from Pecan Island, La.  “Marines who’ve deployed and haven’t had many opportunities to use it would be the most affected.”

Marines looking to continue their education are going to have to search beyond the Marine Corps for a way to pay for school.

“There are many grants and many opportunities out there,” said  Broussard.” It’s going to take more legwork and a lot more self-reliance now.”

For Marines looking for financial aid resources, information and an application for Federal Student Aid can visit www.fafsa.ed.gov, or visit the Joint Education Center.