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Educational opportunities plentiful for Team Buckley

BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Classes, homework, papers and projects. Sounds like the typical week of an undergraduate student, doesn't it? Add physical fitness, platoon sergeant duties, training and meetings, and you have my typical week.

I am currently a full-time student working toward a bachelor's degree in biology, serving on active duty, holding a part-time job and trying to maintain some sort of family life. Am I a glutton for punishment or just plain crazy? Some may say joining the U.S. Marine Corps is punishment enough! On the contrary, becoming a student again has added an enjoyable new dimension to my life.

No time to go back to school you say? I have found that many classes are offered in the evenings or on weekends to accommodate busy schedules. Schools often offer independent or distance learning courses, and I have been able to take a few courses online. Can't decide on a subject? You may wish to take interdisciplinary courses or check into the possibility of customizing your program of study. Don't want to commit to a program? Watch for community education classes, lectures, personal enrichment programs, or continuing education classes.

If you think college is too expensive, there are scholarships, grants and other funding sources are readily available. Tuition assistance is available for members of all the armed services. Details for each service are:

-- The Marine Corps and Air Force postsecondary education, from vocational certification through graduate study, tuition assistance will fund up to 100 percent of institution charges for tuition, instructional fees, laboratory fees, computer fees and mandatory enrollment fees combined. Funding will not exceed $250 per semester hour equivalent and $4,500 per individual per fiscal year.

-- Within the past year, the Army has moved the tuition assistance program online, allowing soldiers increased flexibility and the opportunity to manage their own education. The Army's TA program offers money for course work ranging from vocational certification through graduate study, funding 100 percent of the cost of tuition/instruction and laboratory fees. Applicable maximums are $250 per semester hour equivalent up to $750 per course and $4,500 per individual each fiscal year. Additional funds to assist with enrollment related fees and books are sometimes available as well. For more information, contact the Army Education Office on base at 720-847-6248.

-- The Navy provides active duty personnel funding for tuition costs for courses taken in an off-duty status at a college, university or vocational/technical institution, whose regional or national accreditation is recognized by the Department of Education. A list of approved accrediting agencies may be found at http://www.ed.gov/admins/finaid/accred/accreditation_pg6.html#NationallyRecognized for a list of national accrediting agencies; Navy TA pays for both classroom and independent study/distance learning courses, regardless of course length, capped at $250 per semester hour, $166.67 per quarter hour, $16.67 per clock hour, and $166.67 per continuing education unit. Navy TA pays 100 percent of tuition costs for courses applicable to the completion of a high school diploma or equivalency certificate. For other education levels, there is a fiscal year credit limit of 16 semester hours, 24 quarter hours, 240 clock hours or 24 CEUs per individual. Waiver requests cannot exceed the fiscal year $4,500 limit.

-- Coast Guard tuition assistance is available for active duty, appropriated funded civilian employees, drilling reserve members (SELRES), and Public Health Service members working with the Coast Guard. TA will be processed "up-front" for all courses. Courses may be resident or remote. All courses will be related to the USCG mission, or to the individual's career or professional development, and must be taken with a nationally or regionally accredited Institution, resulting in "accredited" college credit, clock hours, or contact hours. TA is not authorized for continuing education units, professional development units and non-accredited clock or non-accredited contact hours. The annual cap for TA is $4,500.00 for active duty personnel, selected Reservists and civilian employees. Courses are capped at $250 per semester hour, $166.67 per quarter hour and $16.67 per clock hour for Vocational or Technical training.

Basically this means all you have to buy is your books. An education doesn't get much cheaper than that! The base education center at 720-847-6675, is an excellent resource to find out what exactly you may or may not qualify for.

University department or program home pages can be a useful place to start exploring potential subjects. Most college or university catalogs are available online. Once you have found a program or course you are interested in, make an appointment with the program advisor or a professor who teaches that course.

Would I do it again? Absolutely. Although managing a career and course work simultaneously has been challenging at times, it has also been a rewarding experience. For everything I have put into my courses, my education has given back threefold. Being a student again has made me a better person, a better scholar, and most importantly, a better Marine.

If you are inquisitive and motivated, you may want to don a backpack and head back to school. Right now, in a classroom somewhere, there is an empty seat waiting to be filled by someone who would like to explore interesting ideas, challenge themselves, and contribute to their profession. In other words, someone just like you.