Columbia College to offer grant to Coast Guard spouses

Tuesday, September 15, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Spouses of Coast Guard members attending Columbia College may now receive a college education without feeling the burden of an empty wallet.

Columbia College has announced the Coast Guard Spouse Grant, a program that offers a 50 percent tuition reduction to spouses of Coast Guard members, said Tery Donelson, assistant vice president for enrollment management at the college. 

Donelson said the 50 percent reduction per credit hour would not exceed $6,000 per individual spouse. Coast Guard members themselves will not benefit from the grant. 

"If you're in the Coast Guard, you're already getting military tuition assistance, and your costs are fully covered," Donelson said. "We pay up to $250 per credit hour so they're covered 100 percent." 

Donelson said Columbia College came up with the grant idea in late July when it realized Coast Guard spouses were not benefiting from the current U.S. Department of Defense's spouse tuition program. The department offers reduced tuition for spouses of members of the Marines, Army, Navy and Air Force, but the Coast Guard is under jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Donelson said. 

He said Columbia College — the only institution that has a campus on a Coast Guard installation — wanted to help Coast Guard spouses.

"We consider ourselves very Coast Guard friendly, and those spouses kind of got left out so we decided to step in and help to a degree," Donelson said. 

The college currently has more than 300 military spouses enrolled nationwide, and just two of them are Coast Guard. Donelson said the grant will become effective in October. 

To be eligible for the grant, spouses must be undergraduate, degree-seeking students. Other discounts offered by the college cannot be combined with the grant program.

Donelson said the point is to make service members more marketable. 

"The idea is to allow the spouse to get a degree that is marketable because they're constantly relocating and finding new jobs," he said. 

One of the spouses benefiting from the program has already given positive feedback, Donelson added.  

"Imagine if someone told you to keep doing what you're doing and your tuition will be cut in half," he said. "That can only be a positive thing." 

He heralded the college for offering credit for education and training that service members receive while in service.

"Say you're a sailor working on a nuclear submarine — you're going to take hours and hours of classes on physics and other difficult subjects, ... but some schools don't give any credit for that,"  " Donelson said.

He said Columbia College is present on 18 military installations across the country, is consistently underneath the military tuition cap and is very affordable — all of which contribute to its appeal for service members. 

No other institutions have implemented a similar program yet for Coast Guard spouses.

"We're very proud that we're able to sit down and come up with a solution for this," he said. "It's a win-win situation for both our students and for our institution."

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