Free college degrees offered through Joint Education Center[MIGRATE]

By Cpl. Juan D. Alfonso | June 23, 2008

Editors note: This is the first in a four part series on education. 

The Joint Education Center for Life Long Learning offers several education opportunities, but many Marines have no idea what resources are available or that time may be running out.

“A lot of Marines just don’t know their basic benefits,” said Craig Lockwood, an education specialist with JEC Marine Corps Base Hawaii.

He said he has seen several Marines, one with only a year left on his contract, who had never heard of the tuition assistance programs.

Marine Tuition Assistance is just one of the many benefits offered. TA is a government-funded program designed to aid enlisted service members on active duty, or enlisted reservists on continuous active duty, who are pursuing a college degree.

Officers with two years of active service remaining on their contract are also eligible per Marine Administrative Message 571/05.

Using TA, Marines can have 100 percent of their tuition paid, as long as they do not exceed their maximum funding per fiscal year.

Marines receiving TA during fiscal 2008 can receive up to $4,500 as long as their courses cost no more than $250 per semester hour, or 15 hours of instruction, according to the MARADMIN.

To begin the process, Marines must have a high school diploma or equivalent. If they have not used TA before, they must attend a TA orientation brief. The brief, known as College 101, is offered at 11:40 a.m. every Tuesday in room 204, here.

Marines on Marine Corps Base Hawaii, Kaneohe Bay can attend the brief at 11:45 a.m. every Wednesday at the JEC.

In addition to the brief, any first-time TA user with a general technical score of 99 or below must complete the Test of Adult Basic Education, which is offered multiple times a week at the JEC.

After attending the brief, a TA form must be completed and signed by a company commander or education officer before returning it to the JEC, according to Lockwood.

To continue using TA after the first semester, Marines must maintain a 2.0 grade-point average and have no more than two outstanding grades, a grade not received after 30 days of course completion.

But Marines should be aware there are some considerations before enrolling in a class.

If a Marine fails a class, he must pay back his TA and TA will not cover the charge for attending the class again. Voluntarily withdrawing from a class results in the same, but there are avenues for overcoming life challenges.

“Life happens,” Lockwood said. “If you can’t finish a course for any non-military-related reason, like a second job or a baby on the way and you have a good relationship with your instructor, you can ask for an incomplete.”

An incomplete is a grade given in place of a traditional grade. The grade is a contract between student and instructor stating the student will complete the course on his own time by a certain date. After the contract is met, a new grade will be posted for the class.

“Even if you think you can’t get an incomplete, try it anyway,” Lockwood said. “Be upfront with them and ask.”

According to Lockwood, Marines need to ensure their grades are posted in time or there could be consequences. Any class grade the institution fails to report after a period of time will register as a failure.

Lockwood said he once had a Marine owe $2,000 with only a month of service remaining.

“They took it out of his final paycheck,” he said. “He eventually got it back, but it’s a situation you don’t want to put yourself in. Check until you are sure your grades have posted after every class.”

He also had a few words to say to any Marine who hasn’t decided whether they want to pursue a degree.

“There are some amazing benefits for active duty and we don’t see enough of them taking advantage of it,” he said. “A lot of people look at having to get a two-or four-year degree and say ‘I can’t do it,’ but they’d be surprised at how quickly they could get an associates by just squeezing in a class here and there.”

Several Marines within U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific attend classes regularly and have had nothing but positive things to say.

“It’s a great benefit and a money maker,” said Lance Cpl. Alex Orozco, an administration clerk with the unit and a college student for almost a year. “Take advantage of it now. Once class a semester is something and it’s free money. I’m getting a free education.”

A typical semester at any on-base campus consists of four hours, one day a week for 10 weeks. Marines also have the option of two days a week for a five-week course and MCB Hawaii’s Education Center offers courses that are two-and-a-half weeks.

“We understand the military life style, Lockwood said. “That’s why we want to get you in and through it as quickly as possible.”

For more information, contact the Joint Education Center at 257-2158.

Next week, the Apprenticeship program.