MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. -- With a bachelor's degree close at hand, Sgt. Robert White didn't want to slow his coursework last fall when tuition assistance for Marines at Quantico stopped covering more than one class at a time, so he started paying for half his classes out of pocket. The new expenditure also came at a time when he and his wife were juggling the expenses of an infant son.
As of Feb. 5, Marine Corps tuition assistance has been reinstated in full.
"There's just a big relief, knowing that I'm not going to have to stress out thinking, what am I going to have to cut to pay for my classes," said White, a graphic production specialist with Combat Camera who is within 30 credits of a bachelor's degree in graphic design and media from Southern New Hampshire University.
He said the degree will help him both during and after his Marine Corps service. "I did graphic design before the Marine Corps, I plan to do it after, and it won't hurt me for a promotion as well," he said.
At the start of Fiscal Year 2014, which began in October, tuition assistance funding was cut Corpswide to the point that the Quantico Voluntary Education Center could only approve assistance for about 270 of the approximately 1,800 Marines who apply for the program each quarter of the fiscal year. The second quarter began Jan. 1, and funding dried up within nine days.
To allow as many students as possible access to tuition assistance, the center limited assistance to one class per Marine.
"With so little funding, I couldn't justify giving more than one class per student," said Melora McVicker, the base's education services officer.
The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014, passed by Congress and signed by the president on Jan. 17, fully restored funding for the program.
Now, McVicker said, the education center should be able to meet Quantico Marines' demand for tuition assistance for the rest of the fiscal year.
"We have a lot of Marines who are really excited that they'll be able to pick up tuition assistance and continue their education," she said.
One of those is 1st Sgt. Allen Mullis, the first sergeant for Service Company, Headquarters and Service Battalion, who just had his tuition paid for a college algebra class.
"Last semester, I had to drop a class because my tuition assistance wasn't approved on time," he said.
Mullis, who will retire in two years, expects to have his bachelor's degree in business administration from American Military University by early next year, even though his plans were pushed back by the recent limits on tuition assistance. He said he hasn't paid out of pocket for classes since joining the Corps.
"It definitely helps you out financially if you don't have to use the GI Bill," he said, adding that he plans to use half of his GI Bill benefits to pay for a master's degree and pass the other half to his children.
Sgt. Rafael Martinez, an administrative clerk at Reserve Affairs, was approved for tuition assistance the day it was reinstated. He said his plans, too, were pushed back when he couldn't get tuition assistance for a course beginning this month. He had planned to have his general education associate's degree from Central Texas College by October of this year.
He said the degree will make him more attractive for promotion within the Corps, but will also be a step toward a bachelor's degree that will help him in the civilian world.
"I plan on doing my 20 [years], but there will be a day I'll get out of the Marine Corps, and I plan to set myself up for success," Martinez said.
Tuition assistance remains capped at $250 per credit hour and $4,500 per year. Students have to apply within 30 days before the class starts. Additional requirements placed on tuition assistance last fall remain in effect, such as a condition that Marines have at least two years in the service before being eligible, and first-time applicants to the program can only get one class covered for their first term. As of last fall, those who use tuition assistance also have to attend Quantico's College 101 briefing annually.
To learn more about tuition assistance, contact the Voluntary Education Center at 703-784-3340. To download a tuition assistance application form, visit quantico.usmc-mccs.org and click "Tuition Assistance Application Form." To apply online, visit myeducation.netc.navy.mil. The College 101 briefing is offered every Wednesday at the Voluntary Education Center, with the time alternating between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. Call the VEC at 703-784-3340 to sign up.