Md. helps veterans with college

96 scholarships awarded in plan for those who served in Iraq or Afghanistan

April 28, 2007|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,Sun reporter

The state awarded scholarships to nearly 100 veterans and their spouses and children yesterday as part of a new program to help those who served in Iraq or Afghanistan.

The Maryland Higher Education Commission, which administers the program, initially had trouble finding applicants for the grants, which cover half the annual tuition, fees, room and board at a state college or university.

But after a publicity push this spring, the state wound up with more than 200 applicants and made 96 awards averaging $5,630 a year.

"We often talk about supporting veterans, and this is one way where we really can support them when they come back home and want to improve their situation by getting a college degree," said Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, who served in Iraq and co-sponsored the legislation that created the scholarships last year when he was in the House of Delegates.

The Maryland scholarship program, which the General Assembly passed unanimously, differs from federal education benefits provided to veterans in that the spouses and dependents of veterans are also eligible for the awards. Of the 96 scholarships the state granted, 36 went to family members.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch, who was a co-sponsor of the legislation, said the nature of the country's current military engagements makes this kind of assistance even more important.

"You're fighting a war with reservists and National Guard people who are in the workplace for the most part and have families they're leaving," Busch said. "Many times, they are taking a decrease in pay from their normal employment, and many of them have spouses and children in college."

The scholarship awards -- $500,000 in all -- were granted on a first-come, first-served basis until the money ran out. To be eligible, veterans had to have served at least 60 days on active duty in Afghanistan or Iraq. The largest share of scholarships went to students at Towson University and Community College of Baltimore County.

Wes Ottey, 26, missed this year's scholarships but is in line for next year.

Ottey said he knew when he graduated from Towson High School in 1999 that he wanted to serve his country and then go back to school.

After four years in the Army, including a stint in Iraq as part of the 3rd Ranger battalion, he came back to Baltimore County and enrolled at the Essex campus of the Community College of Baltimore County to figure out what he wanted to do with his life. A summer internship sparked an interest in finance, and last fall he transferred to Towson University to pursue a degree there.

But he has been forced to take out student loans to cover tuition. A scholarship would mean he would have a lot less to pay back when he's done, Ottey said.

"It's a great thing that the state is doing giving the money to vets," Ottey said. "I just wish I had gotten my application in earlier." Officials said more scholarships will be available next year.

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