Penn State helps military and veteran students earn degrees

February 02, 2010

University Park, Pa. -- Senior Airman Kimberly DeLong of Oklahoma City, Okla., is making the Air Force her career, but she also wants a college degree to enhance her knowledge and skills. Enter Penn State, which offers a grant-in-aid and other financial aid to military students. For DeLong, the Penn State grant, coupled with Air Force tuition assistance and the Post-9/11 GI Bill, is enabling her to pursue a bachelor’s degree in business online through Penn State’s World Campus. Her only cost is books.

“It’s a huge reason I chose this degree,” DeLong said. Now stationed in Southwest Asia, she is working long hours as a contracting officer, but is still able to pursue her education, thanks to Penn State.

“The current economic climate is challenging for all adult learners, but it’s especially so for military servicemembers and veterans,” said Wayne D. Smutz, executive director of Penn State World Campus and associate vice president for Academic Outreach. “Many have access to government benefits, but they don’t cover all education expenses. That’s why Penn State is actively pursuing military scholarships and other financial aid programs for these students.”

As Office of Veterans Programs Director Brian Clark pointed out, “In spite of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which is a very good benefit, we always have veterans whose benefits have expired or who have needs that go beyond the traditional sources of financial aid.”

Making a Penn State education more accessible is a top priority of the current University-wide capital campaign For the Future: The Campaign for Penn State Students, which will kick off its public phase in April. As part of this campaign, the Outreach unit is seeking funds specifically to help military and veteran students.

In 2008-09, there were more than 2,600 online course enrollments by military servicemembers and veterans, 11 percent of total enrollment, in Penn State World Campus. Also, 2,033 veterans were enrolled in courses at a Penn State campus.

The University’s efforts to help these students have been recognized with the 2009 Ray Ehrensberger Award for Institutional Excellence in Military Education. In addition, Military Advanced Education is including World Campus in its annual “Guide to America’s Military-Friendly Colleges and Universities” for a second year. Penn State is one of only three institutions to receive recognition in all three of the guide’s categories: commendable distance learning programs, top academics and notable veteran support programs. GI Jobs Magazine alsohas designated World Campus a military friendly institution.

That’s good news to Bernard Sherman of Ft. Myers, Fla. Sherman, a disabled Marine veteran whose GI Bill benefits are running out, is a single father of a young son who suffers from autism. He is using a Penn State World Campus Trustee Scholarship and funding from the Charlene H. Harrison Adult Learner Fund to complete a bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership.

“Without the World Campus and Penn State scholarships, I wouldn’t be able to make it,” Sherman said.

Outreach also established a scholarship for military students with a gift from an anonymous donor who wanted to honor a family member who served in World War II. In addition, Outreach is raising funds for other programs with the help of Penn State alumnus and retired Navy Capt. Ryan J. McCombie, who chairs the Outreach World Campus Military Scholarship Advisory Board.

In a letter encouraging Penn State alumni and friends to support World Campus scholarships and funds for military and veteran students, McCombie said, “As our veterans continue to make sacrifices in Afghanistan and Iraq, we can ensure they have the knowledge to succeed both in war and in peace. Education remains a critical component of this success, as the last ‘Greatest Generation’ demonstrated. The Penn State World Campus can be an integral part of providing that education.”

Penn State military students who are receiving a grant-in-aid, which reduces public tuition by 33 percent for undergraduate offerings, include:

Staff Sgt. Kriss Berry of Harrisburg, Pa., whose grant-in-aid has enabled him to complete a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. The grant and Pennsylvania Army National Guard benefits covered all of his education expenses. Berry chose to study “online, because it’s the easiest way to get classes done, considering my work schedule,” he said. He is with Recruit Sustainment Detachment 13, where he trains newly enlisted soldiers before they enter basic training. He served in Khost Province, Afghanistan, in 2005 and 2006.

David Baus, an Army specialist with the Pennsylvania National Guard currently stationed in Tallil, Iraq, doesn’t always have Internet access, but when he does, he quickly “switches gears from a battle-mindset to maximizing the opportunity for a college education.” The Uniontown, Pa., native said “the flexibility of online learning allows me to complete course assignments while enduring an unpredictable work schedule.” The grant-in-aid is helping Baus complete his bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership.

Kevin King of Bellefonte, Pa., spent his first three months in Afghanistan in 84 firefights. In one, a rocket-propelled grenade exploded about 20 feet in front of him, throwing him backward into a Humvee, injuring his head and shoulder. A Pennsylvania Army National Guard infantryman, King quickly returned to the firefight and later refused transfer for medical treatment, so he could remain with his unit. “I was really lucky to be alive,” King said. He is using the same dogged determination to pursue an organizational leadership degree at University Park campus.

First Lt. George Webb of Centre Hall, Pa., serves on the Pennsylvania Army National Guard’s Stryker Combat Brigade Team. While stationed in Baghdad in 2008-09, he took online courses and is continuing his education now that he’s back home. Thanks to the grant-in-aid, Webb said, “I’m able to gain an education without a big financial burden.” Webb plans to complete a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice before deploying to Afghanistan in 2012.

After earning an associate degree online, Jarret Walters of Slatington, Pa., decided to continue his education by pursuing a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. “The grant allowed Penn State to be just as affordable for me as the local community college,” Walters said. The leading petty officer of the Naval Air Station Patuxent River Physical Therapy Department, HM1(FMF) Walters works with wounded warriors and supervises the daily operations of the department. In 2003, he was in Iraq providing initial care and treatment to combat injured personnel.

For information about Penn State online degree programs, visit online.

Penn State World Campus specializes in adult online education, delivering more than 60 of Penn State’s most highly regarded graduate, undergraduate and professional education programs through convenient online formats. Founded in 1998, Penn State World Campus is the University’s 25th campus serving more than 9,600 students in all 50 states and 62 countries. For more information, visit online. Penn State World Campus is part of Penn State Outreach, the largest unified outreach organization in American higher education. Penn State Outreach serves more than 5 million people each year, delivering more than 2,000 programs to people in all 67 Pennsylvania counties, all 50 states and 114 countries worldwide.


(Media Contacts)

Last Updated February 03, 2010