By DANIELLE WOODWARD
Capital News Service
LANSING — Members of the Michigan National Guard could get $4,500 in tuition assistance under a bill recently introduced by legislators.
It would set up a program where members could apply for help towards a college degree or vocational training, said Rep. Bruce Rendon, R-Lake City, who sponsored the bill.
It’s an attempt to raise the state from the bottom ranks of those offering assistance to veterans, Rendon said.
“To qualify, one would have to have a service contract with the Michigan National Guard where they have committed to a six-year contract at some point in their career,” said Brig. Gen. Mike Stone of the Michigan National Guard.
Members would have to be on active duty and have proof of completing and passing their classes to be reimbursed.
Michigan is late to the game, as 43 states already have similar programs.
“We’re one of only seven states that doesn’t have the program,” Rendon said. “Since all of Michigan’s surrounding states do, it makes it hard to keep our National Guard folks here.”
Camp Grayling, in Crawford County, Rendon’s district, is the largest National Guard training site in the country and takes up 176,000 acres.
“For my district, it is critical to have a program like this,” Rendon said. “We have so much to offer and do not want the only reason that people don’t enlist to be lack of financial assistance.”
Michigan National Guard officials hope that the assistance induces more people to stay in state and enlist.
“Recruiters have gotten the word out that there will be potential for a tuition assistance program and we’ve already seen an increase in enlistment of more than 50 percent, so it really does make a difference,” Stone said.
“When it comes to shrinking defense budgets, they look at states that can’t keep their number of recruits up when making cuts,” Stone said. “We want Michigan to be competitive and are fighting to keep it that way.”
Gov. Rick Snyder originally set aside $5 million in the 2015 proposed budget for the program, but the guard decided to push for a bill to speed up the process.
“Most high school kids are already making decisions as to what they are doing after graduation,” Stone said. “By running a bill early and giving certainty that there will be tuition available in the fall, this creates an opportunity for young future guardsman to make a commitment to the National Guard.”
The army already has a federal tuition assistance program but the requirements are a bit stricter, Stone said.
“To qualify, you have to be in the army for a whole year and deploy, which means you’d be sent away to fight, and not all are able to right away,” Stone said.
Under Michigan’s proposal, federal assistance would have to be used before the recipient receives any from the state.
“This would be one of the most cost effective programs in the country,” Stone said. “It would not be like it is in some states where it’s just free tuition.”
This program would also be a step in the right direction in making sure veterans are not ignored by the state, Rendon said.
Over 1,000 members of Michigan’s National Guard are expected to use the tuition assistance if it passes, Stone said.
“There are around 10,500 people serving in the National Guard and we expect the full 10 percent to use the program,” Stone said.
The Military and Veterans Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on the bill soon and hopefully it will be through the House and Senate before the legislative break in June, Stone said.