Leaders seek better tuition aid for Vt. National Guard members

MONTPELIER — Waiving in-state college tuition for National Guard members would boost recruitment and expand the state’s workforce, said supporters of two bills at a news conference Thursday.
H.72 and S.195 would shift tuition assistance for service members from a limited pool of interest-free loans to a full tuition benefit program.
Vermont is the only state in the Northeast that does not offer a full tuition benefit. According to Maj. Gen. Steven Cray, the Vermont National Guard’s adjutant general, that means prospective recruits often pass over Vermont, choosing instead to enlist in nearby states that will give them a full ride.
“In the last year alone, the Army National Guard under-recruited by 50 soldiers and the Air National Guard under-recruited by 60 airmen, leaving 350-plus vacancies across the ranks of our organization,” Cray said.
Those vacancies make it harder for soldiers to accomplish their missions, said 1st Lt. Mike Arcovich, a public affairs officer for the Vermont Army National Guard.
“When you’re talking about scenarios that could be detrimental to a community — when a hurricane strikes, or we’re sending people out to the Virgin Islands (for disaster response) — if we’re not fully manned, it’s a challenge,” Arcovich said.
Dustin Degree, the governor’s executive director of workforce expansion, said providing the tuition benefit would also bolster the state’s workforce.
About one-third of all Vermont National Guard members are from out of state, Degree said. “If we can increase the benefits, we know that we can not only keep Vermonters here, but we can draw Vermonters here,” he said.
Guard members currently can apply for interest-free loans toward tuition at Vermont colleges and universities. Because the program’s funding varies from year to year, the amount an applicant is eligible for may change over the course of his or her education.
Loans average between $4,000 and $6,000 and can be forgiven after the person fulfills Guard service obligations.
The state currently funds the program at $250,000. Under the proposed legislation, that allocation would increase to $890,000.

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