SMYRNA – With Delaware National Guard members looking on, Governor Jack Markell signed legislation on Tuesday that will provide Delaware National Guardsmen with financial assistance for higher education.
The legislation, House Bill 73, was sponsored by Rep. Earl G. Jaques Jr., D-Glasgow, who drafted the original legislation more than 10 years ago while he was with the Guard. The new law expands an existing program to allow more guardsmen to seek post-secondary degrees. A retired Delaware Air National Guard colonel, Rep. Jaques said that more than 1,000 guardsmen have taken advantage of the original financial assistance program through the years, but there were two areas that he felt needed to be addressed: grade point average (GPA) requirements and a master’s degree.
“Just as the competitive global economy is requiring businesses to find more highly skilled workers, the military is also requiring more highly skilled troops to meet our national defense needs,” Gov. Markell said. “HB 73 enhances educational benefits without increasing costs to the Delaware taxpayer. Expanding education benefits for Delaware’s Guard personnel will meet the desires of our current and future Citizen-Soldiers and Citizen-Airmen to gain more education to make their Guard experience more fulfilling.”
House Bill 73 allows guardsmen to pursue a master’s degree and still receive funding through the financial assistance program. Under the original law, funding was available only for associate’s and bachelor’s degrees. The new law, however, does not allocate any additional funding. Priority for funding will be given to guardsmen enrolling in associate’s and bachelor’s degree programs. Any remaining funding will be allocated to those pursuing a master’s degree.
“There is a new information technology unit in the Guard that requires members to have or be working on a master’s degree, and because the original legislation didn’t include master’s degrees, we felt we should expand the program to meet the needs of that unit,” Rep. Jaques said.
Major General Francis D. Vavala, adjutant general for the Delaware National Guard, said that expanding the program to include master’s degrees will allow Delaware guardsmen to be more competitive both in the Guard and out in the private sector.
“The education assistance program has been one of those great benefits that we have been able to offer to people to join the Guard,” Maj. Gen. Vavala said. “This bill will upgrade and enhance the previous education assistance program and give us more latitude. With the master’s degree, it allows our people to progress further with their education, which pays dividends to the state, having their hometown, homeland security force better educated and trained.”