68 students denied National Guard tuition assistance

By on December 10, 2015
The Louisville Cardinal News

By Simon Isham–

Sixty-eight U of L students who are in the Kentucky Army National Guard will be losing their scholarships next semester. The students, who each received $5,000 per semester from the Kentucky National Guard, were notified yesterday by the U of L Office of Admissions. Spring semester tuition is due this week for undergraduate students.

Fred Cowgill, the parent of Christian Cowgill, a Kentucky National Guard recruit and a sophomore at U of L, said that his son would not have joined the Guard if he had known that the tuition assistance program could be revoked at any time.

“This was by far the reason he joined,” Fred Cowgill said. “In the Kentucky National Guard and the Army, they promise they will pay your tuition. They never talked about this (possibility) in their recruitment, and the sad thing is, they’re recruiting new people with that same sales pitch right now … It’s morally and ethically wrong. These are guys who could be in the line of fire within a few months.”

Freshman nursing student Hilary Holdaway, who has been a service member for nearly a year, said she was particularly excited when she heard about the scholarship program because she plans to become a flight nurse in the military after graduation.

“I have always been under the impression that the military would invest in their soldier’s professional endeavors as they invested in theirs. It never occurred to me that my tuition assistance could be revoked because it was such a selling point all throughout my recruitment process,” she said, noting that taking student loan debt was of particular concern to her when she was deciding whether to start college.
Holdaway said she was only notified last week about the decision to revoke the scholarships. Finding out during finals week was especially difficult, she said.
But Holdaway’s situation is even more complicated than some of her fellow student-soldiers: Holdaway was at a 5-month military training at Fort Jackson in South Carolina this summer, so she missed the April deadline to apply for the scholarship funds for fall 2015.

“I was motivated though, and didn’t want to wait (to begin school),” she said. “I was promised a sign-on bonus that I intended to use to cover that first semester. I have yet to receive (the bonus) within the promised time frame of getting back home.

“This has put me in a bad standing with U of L, since I denied the loans offered to me, banking on the words of my superiors that my bonus would be in on time to pay for it. As it stands, not only am I unable to pay for my last semester, but my spring semester’s assistance that I applied and qualified for has been taken away.”

Though she had hoped to avoid taking out student loans when she decided to attend U of L, Holdaway said she will now have to take out loans to cover both the fall and spring semesters.

Fred Cowgill said that since Christian was notified about the revocation of his scholarship, Fred has been calling around to the Office of Financial Aid, the Adjutant General (the de facto commander of a state’s military forces) of the Kentucky National Guard and even Kentucky’s third congressional district representative John Yarmuth’s office for answers. But no one he contacted seemed to have any.

“It’s amazing how this situation exists and no one wants to take ownership of it,” Fred Cowgill said.

Kentucky National Guard Director of Public Affairs Major Stephen Martin said that the scholarship revocation was caused by a budget shortfall, which he says was created due to lower rates of deployment and an increase in Kentucky tuition costs.

“This was always a benefit,” Martin said. “It was not in their contracts and it was written nowhere that they would be provided with this if the funding was not available. But we are doing our level best to help everyone apply for federal assistance (instead).”

Martin said that the state senate authorized $5.3 million in Kentucky National Guard scholarship funds for the 2015-2016 school year. In the fall of the previous year, the Guard received a total of 1,627 applications for funds, and they expected to receive a similar amount of applications this year.

It seemed that things would go according to plan in the fall of 2015, when the Guard processed 845 applications, expecting to receive a similar number in the spring as well. Instead, they received 1,210 applications. With the remaining money, the state was only able to fund 514 service members, leaving 696 unfunded. Sixty-eight of those students attend U of L, and the rest attend other colleges across the state. The Guard was left with a $2.8 million disparity between how much it had budgeted and how much it had promised.

Although he said students will not be able to obtain funding from the Kentucky Guard this semester, Martin said that “education services at (the federally-funded program) GoArmyEd are on standby” waiting to assist service members with scholarship applications. Enlistment in the Guard automatically makes a student eligible for up to $16,000 in federal scholarship assistance at Goarmyed.com. He said that all students whose scholarships were rejected were notified of this assistance.

When asked why students were not immediately notified of the change to their scholarships by the Kentucky Guard directly, rather than by U of L’s Office of Admissions, Martin said “We, in the interest of maximum disclosure and minimum delay, pushed out the info to the universities so that we could get the information as quickly as possible to the service member. Because of the road we took, they just received the info from U of L first.”

Martin said that if a service member’s contact info is not up-to-date in the Kentucky Guard’s records, he or she would not hear from the Guard about the scholarship revocation until he or she shows up for the next training session.

“But the majority of members were contacted immediately,” he said.

It’s possible that the scholarships will return as soon as fall of 2016, but until the Guard receives its applications, the future of the program is uncertain. Despite the revocation of the scholarship, students who are currently enlisted in the Guard are still expected to show up one weekend per month for training, and are compensated as if they were “on four days of active duty” according to Martin. But those who refuse to do so could face jail time.

The U of L Bursar’s office, which handles tuition payments for the university, sent information to each of the affected students about how they can pay tuition in installments, rather than in a lump sum. Information about the payments plans for spring 2016 can be found at Louisville.edu/finance/bursar/payment/springpayment2.

Sandy Neel, director of financial aid at U of L, did not immediately respond to a Cardinal request for comment about the scholarship revocation and the options that are available to affected students.

About Olivia Krauth

Copy Editor at The Louisville Cardinal.

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