Pa. offers free tuition to National Guard families

HARRISBURG – Members of the Pennsylvania National Guard can now apply for a first-of-its-kind program that provides college scholarships to children and spouses of Guard members. The effort is already paying off for the Guard: Last month was the best month for recruitment of Guard members in five years, said Major General Tony Carrelli.

Enrollment began Oct. 29, and about 200 families have already signed up, Gov. Tom Wolf said.

Guard officials projected they could have 1,000 or 2,000 families enroll in time to use the scholarship to help pay the tuition bills in the 2020 fall semester.

“This program will allow us to recognize military members and their families for their sacrifice by providing them with up to five years of college at no or reduced cost,” Wolf said. “As Pennsylvanians, the least we can do to thank these military families is to ease the burden of paying for education. I encourage all eligible Guard members to enroll today.”

Pennsylvania National Guard Education Division Chief Andrew Swerdlow said that former Guard members can re-enlist to take advantage of the program. Current Guard members can sign up for the program even if they don’t have children, he said. In those cases, if the Guard members eventually become parents, their children would be able to use the tuition benefit, he said.

Under the bill, Guard members who commit to an additional six years of service can receive five years of higher education benefits for their spouses and children. The program will provide for 10 semesters of tuition-free education for National Guard family members in the State System of Higher Education.

Families who wish to use the benefit at universities outside the PASSHE system would receive scholarships equal to the tuition rate of the state system, according to a financial analysis completed by state House staff.

Master Sgt. John Paul Karpovich of Hunlock Creek was the first person to apply for the benefit, state officials said.

Karpovich said his older daughter is a freshman at Bloomsburg University. His younger daughter is a junior in high school. Being able to provide a way for his daughters to attend college tuition-free is a big deal, he said.

Karpovich, whose been in the National Guard 26 years, said many other similar recruitment bonuses are aimed specifically at attracting new people to sign up. He appreciates that this program is available to long-time Guard members, like him.

“Our families do sacrifice,” he said. “This is a way we can give back to them.”

Currently, Guard members themselves are eligible for the Education Assistance Program with their initial service obligation of six years that provides a non-transferable educational benefit.

“We already have a tuition program for our enlisted and veteran Pennsylvania National Guard Members,” Wolf said. “It’s a program that has helped thousands of military families get ahead in their careers without piling on debt. The expansion of this program to spouses and children will help more military families succeed, all while allowing us civilians to say, ‘Thank you for your service.’”