You can have an exciting career in the Marines whether you are based in Pendleton, Lejeune, or abroad. With rapid deployments and off-duty responsibilities it is easy to focus on the present and put off civilian career opportunities or education goals.
It is possible, however, to get a jump on a degree and alternate career path while serving, and the best part is that USMC Tuition Assistance (TA) is a DoD funded benefit. Keep reading to learn how you can take advantage of this under-utilized benefit for Active Duty and Active Reserve Marines.
USMC Tuition Assistance (TA) Benefits
Tuition Assistance is available for all branches of the service, with varying requirements. The Marine Corps has slightly stricter guidelines, which we’ll address here. USMC TA, also known as the Marine Corps Lifelong Learning Program, is separate from the GI Bill and other Veteran-specific assistance. TA is NOT a loan and you are not obligated to repay it.
You may use your GI Bill while on Active Duty and it can be used to supplement TA. We will help you understand how to fully utilize TA and save your GI Bill for the future. TA may be used up to master’s level courses but not for multiple lateral degrees. The idea is to help you build on your current education level or complete a program while continuing to serve.
USMC Officers using TA must have 2 more years until ETS to be authorized to utilize this benefit.
- USMC Reserve: Using this benefit is based on Active Reserve time. If you are on Active Reserve status, you are eligible for the $4,500 annual cap like your Active Duty counterparts. However, this is not a Veteran or Inactive Reserve benefit and is separate from the GI Bill.
- Active Duty: You must start using Tuition Assistance AT LEAST 60 days prior to your ETS.
Applying for and studying using tuition assistance MUST be approved by your Chain of Command.
USMC Tuition Assistance Coverage
Tuition Assistance rates remain steady in general and comparable among the services. However, keep up on current costs and suspensions of the DoD’s budget (your ESO and education support personnel can help with this). Different from the other branches, the USMC does cover fees connected to tuition and these must be noted in your education plan. No equipment, test-taking fees, distance learning fees, textbooks or housing costs will be covered. The following are current rates of assistance:
- Marines can receive up to $4,500 of assistance per fiscal year.
- This breaks down to $250 per semester hour or $166 per quarter hour and can add up to 100% tuition and fees covered.
Career and technical education certificate programs must be accredited and recognized by the DOE and VA, as well as have a signed MOU with the DoD. All Marines are eligible for ONE certification/non-degree program covered by TA during their career. For additional skilled trade maintenance, consult the USMC COOL Program.What does TA not cover? As per MARADMIN, it is the following:
- Non-tuition fees including but not limited to costs associated with room, board, distance learning, equipment, supplies, books/materials, exams, insurance, parking, transportation, admissions, registration, or fines.
- Non-credit courses, training programs, CE credits, and workforce development programs.
- Marines who fail to successfully complete a course will be required to reimburse received TA funds. This includes non-Command requested withdrawal due to orders and failing a course. Reimbursement is required when a “C” for undergraduates and “B” for graduate level courses is NOT maintained, or a 2.0 grade point average.
Steps for Applying for USMC TA
Contact your Education Service Officer (ESO) or other on-base education support personnel with any questions and help filling out your application. You can also go online to the USMC Voluntary Education Support Program and use the MyEducation website through the US Navy. As per MARADMIN, here are the steps for applying:
- Get Command Approval prior to beginning the application process.
- If it is your first-time using TA, you must complete the Marine Corps Institute Personal Financial Management Course (Course IDMCIZ3420GZ) and a College 101 brief.
- As a first-time user, you must have already completed basic training and not be on MOS or PME training.
- Submit a Statement of Understanding.
- Complete and submit a TA application, also called a TA Request Form (if your school has fees to apply, you need to note this when turning in your application).
- TA is only approved for one course at a time for first time users UNLESS you have at least an AA, and you are not automatically approved for further study.
- Only submit for one TA-funded course at a time; simultaneous programs are not allowed.
- Active Reserve must submit a copy of activation or mobilization orders.
- Officers using TA must agree to remain on Active Duty at least 2 years beyond TA funded course completion (check with your ESO on additional forms re: new ETS).
- Complete an Education Plan, also called a SOCMAR.
All schools must have signed a DoD Voluntary Education Partnership MOU and be listed as a participating institution.
Marine Corps COOL: Credentialing Opportunities Online
COOL was specifically designed to help with non-degree programs. Many USMC skill sets require years of apprenticeship and specialized technical skills. COOL pays for vouchers which cover recertification, credentialing, and maintenance of your certifications. This program DOES NOT cover actual training or course or exam materials. Please note: this is NOT a reimbursement program; fill out and submit a request for test vouchers before signing up for the test.
Additional Funding & Support
If you need additional funding for your chosen program, you may use your GI Bill or apply for federal financial aid such as the Pell Grant. Your school’s financial aid office can help you with this and walk you through filling out the FAFSA. The Leadership Scholar Program (LSP) is unique to the Marine Corps and operates as a partnership program with universities, colleges, and the USMC. This program helps honorably discharging Marines with entry into their desired school. You will receive help in selecting and applying to the school of your choice and staff will help fast track your application.
The Federal Perkins Loan Cancellation program is government-sponsored and can cancel your current student loan debt if you have served on active duty during combat. Programs such as The Student Loan Repayment Program (LRP) can repay part of your current education incurred debt. Each of these loan forgiveness and repayment programs have specific eligibility criteria. Talk with your school’s financial aid office and your ESO about these options and other military scholarships that you may qualify for. The USMC Voluntary Education Program can assist online and in-person with:
- Pell Grants
- GI Bill questions
- Joint Service Transcripts (document providing proof of credit for military service)
- CLEP/DSST/ASVAB: Through these tests you can test out of a course or level to save money on prerequisites or receive additional pay per month for a skill such as fluency in a foreign language
- TA Decide and USMAP
- Marine Corps COOL
- Leadership Scholar Program
- Service Members Opportunity College (SOC)
- Other certifications
Tuition Assistance is dependent on the Command’s anticipated Mission Requirements. The Marine Corps also requires Marines to be eligible for promotion in order to use this benefit. Why? You are one of “the Few, the Proud,” right? Along with that goes the responsibility to be the best. TA is there to help you reach your next USMC career goals and those that extend beyond the military. Listen to your Command, work with your ESO and whether you are on a Navy Ship, in the Sandbox or Stateside, you can utilize USMC TA to achieve your goals.
Tia Christopher is a proud US Navy Veteran. Christopher’s writing has focused on explaining military benefits in plain language and helping fellow service members transition from the military. Christopher was recognized in 2013 by the White House as a Woman Veteran Champion of Change.
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