RENO, Nev. (AP) - Hundreds of Nevada National Guard members are
earning college degrees under a tuition waiver approved five years
ago by the state Legislature.
During the last school year, 607 National Guard members attended college on the state waiver program at a cost of $788,494, said Jane Nichols, vice chancellor of academic and student affairs in the Nevada System of Higher Education.
To recognize the sacrifices of Guard members, the 2003 Nevada Legislature passed a law allowing men and women on active Guard
duty to attend any college or university in the state without having to pay tuition. The program later was expanded to include reimbursement for cost of textbooks.
To date, the program has paid an estimated $2.8 million in free tuition to Guard members.
"We think it's one of the finest programs the state could put in place," Nichols said. "It is an incentive for our Nevada citizens to join the Guard and stay in the Guard.
"They also are able to improve our economic future because they are able to graduate with degrees, take better-paying jobs and attract industry to the state by providing skilled workers," Nichols said.
"On a very different level, these young men and women deserve this public support for their educations in exchange for their service to the country," she said.
Sgt. Cheri Cramutolo, a public affairs specialist with the Nevada Army National Guard in Carson City, said she wouldn't have been able to attend college without the state waiver.
A single mother of a 9-year-old daughter, Cramutolo, 35, said she was scrapping by and living on food stamps at one point before she joined the Guard about three years ago and began taking classes at Western Nevada College.
"After I got a divorce, I realized I had to do something with my life, and I realized the only way I could provide for me and my daughter was to go back to school and get my degree," she said.
In August, she is set to get her bachelor's degree in criminal justice from the University of Nevada, Reno and be one step closer to her goal of becoming a lawyer.
Sgt. Scott Taylor of the Army National Guard's aviation unit in Stead, said the tuition waiver is the biggest incentive to keeping members in the Guard.
"We've seen a 60 to 70 percent increase in retention numbers since the tuition waivers started," said Taylor, in charge of the retention of noncommissioned officers.
"Before the waiver, only 30 out of 100 members who came up for reenlistment would stay. After the tuition waiver, 75 to 80 of 100 members decided to stay."
Taylor and Staff Sgt. Stephen Staley, an aircraft crew chief for the Stead aviation unit, are taking advantage of the tuition waiver.
Taylor, 25, is a semester away from earning his associate degree in business administration from Truckee Meadows Community College.
He plans to transfer to UNR and pursue a bachelor's degree in the same field.
Staley, 50, has been accepted into the Orvis School of Nursing at UNR.
"Scott and I are somewhat different in that I am finishing my time in the Army and this program is allowing me at the end of my military career to prepare myself for life after retirement from the military," said Staley, who is three years away from having served 30 years in the Guard.
Taylor and Staley said they wouldn't have been able to afford college without the tuition waiver program.
"It's important as a retention tool for younger kids coming into the Guard and while you're in the Guard, but it also provides an opportunity toward the end of your career to have a life after retirement," Staley said.
"That's one of the things I'm grateful for."
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)