By Krysta Morley, ’14
In Washington state, CNN reported the class of 2011 graduated with an average debt of $22,200. One PLU senior is avoiding high debt through military tuition assistance. One must ask: is cost of service worth avoiding debt?
Chris Crawford, a senior at Pacific Lutheran University and former member of the Air Force, enlisted in 2005 and became an aircraft electrician. He joined his younger brother, who enlisted before him. Crawford served his four year enlistment in Tokyo and Las Vegas. In 2008, Congress signed the Post-GI Bill into law, which gives members of the military who served since September 11, 2001 assistance in covering the cost of college tuition. To gain full benefits, a military member must serve a active duty term of at least 36 months.
Crawford fulfilled this obligation to gain full coverage from the Yellow Ribbon Program, an offshoot of the Post-GI Bill, which covers tuition and fees of a private school by matching the amount of the highest in-state public college costs.
After Crawford’s active duty ended, he went to Tacoma Community College for a year and a half before starting a biology program at PLU. The Yellow Ribbon program covers up to $9,440 per year toward his tuition and fees at PLU for up to 36 months. He also receives a monthly housing allowance as part of the benefits from the Post-GI Bill.
“I get paid to go to school,” Crawford said of the benefits he receives from the military, which in combination with his other financial aid has allowed him to not take out any student loans. Though Crawford will run out of benefits before he completes his last semester, he will leave with far less than the state average for student debt.
“I don’t think it’s like the typical college experience,” said Chris Crawford. “I kind of feel like Billy Madison sitting in school sometimes.” Crawford’s financial aid situation is not the only thing different from many of his fellow students. Now age 28, he is ten years older than most members of the incoming freshman class.
He said although his college experience differs from his classmates, it has not been a problem thus far. Many students choose the path of enrolling in college courses directly after high school, but Crawford said his enlistment in the military allowed him to become a more mature person before beginning his studies. He gained college credit during his enlistment, as well.
Understandably enticing, Crawford said the educational benefits were a large part of the reason he enlisted. With student debt at such a high level, enlisting in order to pay for a college education does not seem completely out of the question. Is the service worth the benefits, though? Crawford, who did not deploy overseas, says it was the right decision for him, but may not be the best fit for everyone.
“If you feel like military service is the path you want to take, the benefits for education may be worthwhile,” Crawford said. However, he cautions his situation may not match everyone’s, and weighing the benefits against the disadvantages is important. For Chris Crawford, the educational benefits made his time in the military even more valuable.