On Monday, Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation that will streamline tuition assistance for members of the Michigan National Guard.

House Bill 6013 was introduced in November to the Michigan Legislature and sponsored by state Rep. Bruce Rendon (R–Lake City). It was referred to the Committee on Military and Veterans Affairs, which reported on the bill with recommendation without amendment.

In December, the bill was referred to the committee on Veterans, Military Affairs and Homeland Security, all of whom favored the bill without amendment, and recommended its immediate effect.

The bill seeks to adjust the Michigan National Guard State Tuition Assistance Program, which is housed within the state’s Department of Military and Veteran Affairs, in assisting members of the National Guard in paying for higher education. Michigan began revamping its National Guard Tuition Assistance Program in 2014 by creating a tuition fund within the state treasury, capped at $10 million.

Despite these efforts to improve education funding for members of the Michigan National Guard, the program introduced in 2014 struggled with red tape complexities. According to Brig. Gen. Michael Stone, assistant adjutant general for installations of the Michigan Army National Guard, a multitude of obstructing steps were necessary in order to approve tuition assistance for members of the Michigan National Guard.

The signed bill, which is now Public Act 531 of 2016, amends the current program to expand the financial discretion of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. The Michigan National Guard Tuition Assistance Fund can distribute money to either an individual member of the National Guard or his or her academic institution.

Under the new legislation, Maj. Gen. Gregory Vadnais, adjutant general and director of Military and Veterans Affairs for the Michigan National Guard, has the power to allocate money directly to an individual’s institution. The act limits lengthy administrative obstructions that previously hindered members of the Michigan National Guard from receiving timely educational funding.

“The changes essentially allow us to pay the school directly, which increases efficiency,” Stone said. “The new language increases efficiency and reduces manpower by eliminating the middle person in the process. A Michigan Guard member can complete an online application and have tuition paid directly to his or her school.”

The Michigan National Guard State Tuition Program may now award soldiers and airmen of the Michigan National Guard up to $600 per credit hour with a $6,000 cap at nearly all Michigan public or private universities, vocational schools, tech schools or trade schools.

“Those who serve to defend and protect our state deserve the ability to also reach their academic goals,” Snyder said. “This bill gives greater flexibility to the National Guard Tuition Assistance Fund in order to provide tuition assistance to those who bravely serve their state and nation.”

LSA junior Colin Kelly, president of the University’s chapter of College Democrats, said because of the straightforward nature of this legislation, the organization did not wish to comment.

LSA student Audrey Carlstrom has been in the Michigan Air National Guard since Dec. 2013, and has been a full-time student at the University since Jan. 2014. Carlstrom said she had never applied for tuition aid until this semester.

“Before now I never applied because I never thought I qualified even though I had read the requirements,” Carlstrom said. “I’m not fully aware of the new changes to be honest, but in the past I’ve felts disqualified before even trying because of the limited benefits of the state, the university I attend, and the federal I receive through the GI Bill and the state.”

Engineering sophomore Emma Terbeek, vice president of the University’s chapter of College Republicans, is originally from Michigan and supports Gov. Snyder’s efforts to support members of the Michigan National Guard who deserve affordable education for their service.

“I think it’s great that Governor Snyder is trying to make it easier for those that serve our country and my state to have access to money to afford a college education,” Terbeek said. “It also incentivizes people joining National Guard because of the streamlined way they will be paying for college tuition.”

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