Joining the United States military earns you important benefits including the Post 9/11 GI Bill and the enhancements to it via the Forever GI Bill act that was passed to further enhance education benefits for both veterans and family members.
Those who bring families with them into military life soon learn that military spouse tuition assistance programs are available to help spouses (and sometimes dependent children, where applicable) pay for education both at home and when stationed with the service member overseas.
At one time, military spouse tuition assistance was known as exactly that – each branch of the military has at one time or another offered a program that either embodied Spouse Tuition Assistance guidelines or were created to offer something similar.
Military spouses looking for financial aid should definitely explore the options open to them based on the branch of service they are affiliated with thanks to the service member.
In some cases you may or may not have to be directly associated with the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, or Coast Guard if you are married to a military member from one branch of service who is assigned to a based operated by a different branch. Don’t assume that your options are restricted in such cases, it always pays to ask.
Spouse Tuition Assistance Program (STAP): An Important Detail
One important note before proceeding: in the past, the military spouse tuition assistance program, or STAP, has been a bit more unified in that STAP was a term used across the various branches of the military to describe spouse education benefits offered from the military relief societies.
Since those days, much has changed, and while some military relief organizations use STAP as a catch-all term, no two programs are alike, and some have changed a great deal since they were originally known as STAP or a STAP-like equivalent.
The Military Relief Societies
Military spouse tuition assistance is offered by a variety of sources including the colleges themselves, some Veterans Service Organizations, etc.
For the purposes of this article, we are using the term “spouse tuition assistance” specifically as it pertains to the education benefits offered by military aid societies, which include the following:
- Army Emergency Relief
- Air Force Aid Society
- Navy/Marine Corps Relief Society
- Coast Guard Foundation
These are private, nonprofit organizations and are not run by the federal government or the various branches of military service. Each branch has an associated aid or relief society; the education benefits provided by each will vary.
There is no standardized set of spouse tuition assistance benefits offered by these agencies across all the military service branches.
Air Force Aid Society
The Air Force Aid Society (AFAS) offers merit-based scholarships, grants, and other assistance including a no-interest loan program offered as a companion award to the main AFAS Hap Arnold grant.
The Arnold grant is a competitive, need-based program offering grants as high as $4,000 at the time of this writing. The funds are awarded based “on the specific needs of the student.” This is done by reviewing the grantee’s income, education costs, etc.
The competition for this grant includes a requirement to complete an application process open ONLY to those with qualifying grade point averages (4.0 is the current requirement at the time of this writing).
The application review must include GPAs, transcripts, and a review of the applicant’s submitted written essay. Applicants may be asked to defend their essay as part of the competition.
Another form of spouse education assistance, the General George S. Brown Spouse Tuition Assistance Program, offers funds for qualifying military spouses for as much as half of any unpaid tuition expenses after other forms of financial aid have been applied.
This program has a cap of $1500 per academic year. This program is specifically aimed at spouses at overseas locations.
Navy/Marine Corps Relief Society
The Navy/Marine Corps Relief Society (NMCRS) changed its approach to Spouse Tuition Assistance, and now offers interest-free loans.
NMCRS changes started in 2009, eliminating a need-based grant program and now focusing grants and loans for Navy and Marine Corps spouses who are living with service members stationed overseas as well as a STAP-like program for those who are stateside.
That program is known as the Education Assistance Program.
For the overseas STAP program, NMCRS offers interest-free education loans can be used to pay for up to half the tuition cost for graduate or undergraduate programs, part-time training, or full-time training.
These loans must be paid off within two years and a minimum monthly payment is required. This payment begins immediately and is not deferred. Each loan is made for one academic year.
Repaying the loan with your monthly installments can be accomplished via a military pay allotment which must be set up via your unit orderly room, personnel flight, or finance office depending on the nature of the base, branch of service, and other variables.
In general, qualifications for these Navy/Marine Corps education loans and other programs for military spouses includes (but is not limited to) the following:
- Applicant must be the spouse of an active duty Navy or Marine Corps service member.
- Applicant must be enrolled full-time or part-time in an approved academic program.
- Applicant must be enrolled “at an institution accredited by a regional/national accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education.”
Applying for this type of STAP funding requires the spouse to apply via the Navy/Marine Corps Relief Society branch at the base they are currently assigned to or being reassigned to.
For those stationed in the United States, Navy and Marine Corps spouses may be eligible to apply for something called the Travers Loan Program to apply for interest-free loans up to $3,000 per academic year.
There is also the previously mentioned Education Assistance Program. This need-based grant/loan program provides for funds to help applicants attend post secondary, technical or vocational institutions in the United States.
This program is open to children of active duty, retired or deceased Sailors and Marines; and for spouses of active duty and retired Sailors and Marines.
The Coast Guard Foundation
Like other military relief societies, the Coast Guard Foundation provides a scholarship program specifically for military spouses. The Lisa Cook Reed Spouse Education Scholarship was created to help civilian spouses of military members between the ranks of E3 and E6 who want to enroll in a nationally or regionally accredited institution.
The scholarship will help with expenses including “books, school fees, transportation, and child care costs.” This program is not open-ended. There is an application period, the dates of which are subject to change from year to year.
Check the Coast Guard Foundation official site to see when the open application period for the current year begins and ends.
Army Emergency Relief
The Army Emergency Relief Spouse Education Assistance Program is described as a need-based scholarship program good for assistance for up to four academic years of full-time study or eight academic years of part-time coursework.
Applicants are required to apply each year regardless of the prior year’s outcome, and there are no application deadlines.
This program is aimed at undergraduate students only. Scholarship amounts vary each year. Payout amounts are determined in part by the number of people applying plus the amount of the current year’s budget and other factors.
Applicants may be required to complete and submit FAFSA information including a student’s Expected Family Contribution plus the cost of attending the college or university. Generally awards may range in amounts from $500 to more than $2,000.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News