Education opens doors.
Maj. Gen. Anthony Carrelli, adjutant general of Pennsylvania National Guard, says the education he received starting at the Air Force Academy set him on a path to build his future — and under his leadership the same opportunity is being afforded to families in his unit.
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf signed the PA GI Bill last year, creating a program that allows spouses and children of Pennsylvania National Guard members to attend college at no or reduced cost. The Military Family Education Program (MFEP) is a first-of-its-kind in the U.S.
“Pennsylvania National Guard members and their spouses and children give a tremendous sacrifice to keep residents safe. These families endure hardships that include many sleepless nights away from one another during overseas deployments, training exercises and domestic emergencies,” Wolf stated in a press release. “The Military Family Education Program is a fitting way to pay tribute to the families who give this selfless support.”
Under the PA GI Bill, PNG members who commit to an additional six years of service can receive five years of higher education benefits for their spouses and children. The program will provide for 10 semesters of tuition-free education for family member(s). The benefit must be used at a Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency–approved educational institution, and at the tuition rate set by the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, according to the governor’s website.
Carrelli said education opportunities often serve as a tool to get men and women through the military’s door, but they stick around because of the culture.
“We have so many people that join just because of that benefit … they serve for six years and they understand what this organization does; they understand what it’s like to give back to your commonwealth; what it’s like to serve your country and … a lot of those people who fully intended to get out after six years, we’re keeping them,” he said.
But he also recognized that just as Guard members have an interest in college, there is a financial burden associated with sending multiple people in one household to school. It’s how the idea came to be for a family benefits program.
“ … many of our members when they deploy and go on active duty, get the 9/11 GI Bill — and they pass it to their kids. That pays for one education, then we see them struggling to pay for other family members and that’s what gave us the idea for this Military Family Education Program. It’s like, what if Pennsylvania did a program where, for another re-enlistment, we’ll pay for another family member’s education — or you can split it up however you want,” he said.
Carrelli said he is pleased with how fast the bill was passed because so many were eager to utilize it. As of April 2020, 1,768 MFEP applications from Pennsylvania National Guard members have been approved. Joan Zlogar Nissley, communications director for PA Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, said she anticipates “this number will grow steadily since the MFEP benefit will be available for use by dependents during the 2020/2021 Academic Year.”
Average tuition and fees of U.S. schools tripled at public four-year and more than doubled at public two-year and private nonprofit four-year institutions, after adjusting for inflation, from 1989 to the present. Carrelli says he watched as his own peers struggled to pay back debt for many years after completing school, and Pennsylvania’s program enables “people to get through school with no student loans and no bills, not being in debt.”
“We’re able to give our Guardsmen an opportunity to get out from some of that debt and concentrate on serving and all the sacrifices that it takes to serve but not make another sacrifice to support your family,” Carrelli added.
Visit https://www.pa.ng.mil/Offices-Programs/Education-Services/Military-Family-Education-Program/ to learn more about Pennsylvania’s program for Guard families.