In 1985, Ken Hardy was getting ready to part ways with the Army after three years on active duty. As part of his out-processing, he was required to speak with an education counselor.
“I know you don’t want to stay in the Army, but do you want to go in the Guard?” the counselor asked Hardy. Before he could decline, the counselor added that Hardy’s home state – Massachusetts – covered 100% of college tuition for its National Guardsmen.
“I actually joined the Guard that day,” Hardy said.
Today, Hardy serves as chief of the Army National Guard’s Education Services Branch. State benefits, he said, remain the foundation of National Guard education assistance.
“It’s what separates us from the other components, for both the Army and Air Guard, really,” Hardy said. “All the other components offer only federal programs.”
Hardy said 39 states offer 100% tuition coverage for National Guard soldiers attending public colleges and universities, and that all states offer at least some education benefits above and beyond the federal assistance that’s available to all service members.
Depending on the state, those benefits can include financial support for soldiers attending private schools or those earning certificates or professional credentials.
“They’re just tremendous programs,” Hardy said. “But we have a dual mission, too. We’re the only component that regularly gets called up to respond to state disasters and missions. That’s why we offer those programs – to draw the talent and strength necessary for readiness – and we offer our soldiers the benefits that go along with that.”
And Hardy said recent developments have expanded on the already “generous” state education benefits.
This year, a law was passed ensuring National Guard soldiers could use the Montgomery GI Bill-Selected Reserve and federal tuition assistance simultaneously. Because GI Bill money often goes directly to the soldier, Hardy said this development is critical in ensuring Guard members can cover expenses beyond tuition, such as housing, books and fees.
In addition, some states are now mirroring Post-9/11 GI Bill programs in that they permit Guard members to transfer their education benefits to their spouses and children. And some allow Guard members to carry their education benefits to public institutions across state lines.
The sheer volume of state and federal education benefits available to Guard soldiers can be overwhelming. Hardy said there are online resources, such as the NationalGuard.com education portal and the Army IgnitED and various state National Guard websites. But even the best sites are limited in their ability to offer personalized guidance, and Army IgnitED has faced usability challenges and is undergoing renovations to correct its shortcomings.
“We always recommend connecting with your state ESO (Education Services Officer),” Hardy said. “You might need a credential, not a college degree, or it might be worth holding off on certain benefits so you can transfer them later to your spouse and your kids. Those are things an education officer can help you navigate specific to your state’s benefits.”Read comments