The Virginia National Guard is projected to receive an additional, recurring $1 million for tuition assistance.
Former Gov. Ralph Northam announced plans to invest the additional funds to support the state National Guard’s tuition assistance program on Dec. 13, 2021, one of his final acts as governor of Virginia.
“Our National Guard members make difficult sacrifices to protect our nation and the Commonwealth,” Northam said in a press release. “This investment aims to reward Virginia soldiers and airmen and encourage more people to join the program. This is a way to say thank you.”
According to the release, the Virginia National Guard State Tuition Assistance Program (STAP) has remained at its current funding levels since 2008. With the proposed increase, the program will be able to provide approximately $4 million to those who qualify, which is around 400-500 members who apply each year.
The proposal would change the program from an up-front direct award, issued before class begins, to a reimbursement model, issued after a Guard member completes a class, according to the release. This was considered the best practice and increased the overall individual tuition assistance Guard members receive.
“Last year, we advocated heavily for Gov. Ralph Northam’s promised tuition-assistance increase,” said Maj. Andrew J. Czaplicki, Virginia National Guard Association President, via email. “His promised $3 million increase would have effectively doubled the STAP budget and supported 500 students annually.
“Unfortunately, the administration’s promise ran out just before the General Assembly’s Joint Budget Conference Committee, and it wasn’t included in the final budget bill signed at the end of session.”
While Northam’s new proposal was exciting to see, Czaplicki said it’s a “far cry short of where the program should be.”
“The Virginia National Guard Association has been an advocate for the expansion of the State Tuition Assistance Program, or STAP, since its inception,” Czaplicki said. “In the words of our Vice President, Air National Guard Capt. Jason Dodge, the ‘tuition assistance is the reason that I’m an electrical engineer, not an electrician.’ The STAP bridges the gap between the federal student aid, through generous programs like the Montgomery GI Bill, and the actual cost of education.”
Czaplicki said the tuition gap can be quite a challenge for most students, but he hopes this proposal will be a step in the right direction.
Similarly, A.A. “Cotton” Puryear, chief of public affairs for Virginia National Guard/Virginia Department of Military Affairs, said via email that STAP is an “important benefit” for soldiers and airmen.
“The program allows VNG personnel to continue their education without incurring large amounts of student loan debt,” Puryear said.
The program, according to Puryear, cannot be used at for-profit schools. It may be used for approved schools as found on the application website. The approved schools include many residential schools in Virginia and some online schools both in and outside of Virginia.
All users incur a two-year commitment to the Virginia National Guard upon completion of the last term used, Puryear said.
To be eligible for the program, applicant must be:
- An active member of the Virginia National Guard;
- Have satisfactorily completed initial basic training requirements;
- Have a remaining service or contractual obligation for two years to the Virginia National Guard after completion of the last academic period in which tuition-assistance grants were received;
- Enrolled in an approved school prior to disbursement of funds to the school.