Military students scramble to figure out how to pay for college

Military students scramble to figure out how to pay for college

CREATED Mar 18, 2013 - UPDATED: Mar 19, 2013

Reporter: Valerie Cavazos

TUCSON (KGUN-TV) - It's one of many promises made to all those men and women fighting for our country. Join the military and you'll have a free ride through college. But that's changing and now students in the military are scrambling to figure out how to pay for their education.

The military's Tuition Assistance Program has become a casualty of the sequester. The Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, Air National Guard and Marine Corps announced it will no longer give active duty U.S. military students -- tutition help.

It's was momentous day for 19 year old Alejandro Maldonado. She's now entering the Air National Guard and is headed for training. But she's also ready to hit the books. "I didn't have enough money to finish school so I decide to join hoping I can get help from them," said Maldonado.

The Air National Guard can help -- just not right away -- now that the Tuition Assistance program is off the table. "If they have not applied for the benefit prior to March 10th then they're not accepting any more applications after that date."

And it's not just the new recruits feeling the sting. Recruiter Msgt. Patricia Switzer just missed the deadline herself. "I was going to take a class on March 8th, Principles of Management class. And I decided to put it off and now because I put it off. I'm going to take to pay for it out of my own pocket," said Switzer.

Switzer could use the GI Bill, which is still an option for military members who go to school full-time. But she transferred that benefit to her children, like many others in the military. "Now they're going to have to relook at that and maybe pull some of those months of benefits back for themselves," she said.

Switzer says she'll try to find the money where she can and tells new recruits that the military has other options, like scholarships. "It's just educating our members. Our next step is to get the word out and let them know what benefits are available to them," she said.

Maldonado had hoped for more immediate help from the military -- but she says she's just happy to have a job -- and the chance at a better future.

21-year-old Nikolle Embree is a student by day -- and a dance instructor by night. She's in the Air Force, but health issues are preventing her from normal duties. She's been able to pay for most of her college costs through the military's Tuition Assistance Program. But Nicole learned she'll have to find another way to pay for college.

She said she's surprised she'll no longer receive tuition help.

"Yeah, I just found out. I knew nothing about it."

Nikolle is pursuing a degree in psychology. She's currently enrolled in Pima Community College and had hoped to finish in two years -- before transferring to a university. The Tuition Assistance Program pays up to $250 dollars per semester hour or $4,500 per year. But now she only has her dance instructor pay to cover the costs.

"What it would basically means I would have to take one class per semester. Usually on average I'm taking three or four so this will cut it down quite significantly," she said. 

Doubling the amount of time, she estimates, to finish college.

Reporter Valerie Cavazos asked Nikolle if she's disappointed.

"Yeah, yeah, It just means that it takes a little bit longer than I expected or was hoping," she answered.

But Nikolle is sure about one thing -- she's set her course and will keep in step with her plans to complete college. 

"I'll still stick with it.. And figure out financing. It's definitely something I still want to do," she said