FORT RUCKER, Ala. (January 17, 2013) -- Fort Rucker is home to numerous opportunities for Soldiers and their Families to earn educational scholarships and grants.

With the cost of education ever increasing, students and potential students should try to explore every avenue to receive scholarships and grants, according to Mike Burden, Army Community Service accredited financial counselor.

"Student loan debt is on average $28,000 per student. There are people who get Pell Grants, scholarships and the like, and still have to get loans. Any amount of money will help Families, but students need to start planning now," he said.

Army Emergency Relief has many opportunities for Families to receive scholarships, including the Maj. Gen. James Ursano Scholarship Program and the Spouse Education Assistance Program. Both scholarships cover fees and books associated with the chosen program as well as tuition. The programs also cover Internet classes.

Spouses can be enrolled full or part time, but children must be enrolled full time.

"Students need to apply every year to continue these scholarships; it is not a one-time deal," said Mimi Brooks, AER officer at ACS.

The programs cover Family members of retirees, active-duty Soldiers, survivors and National Guard or Reserve members, but special criteria must be met for National Guard and Reserve Soldiers Family members.

Applications are available now, but the packets for both programs don't have to be completed and returned until May 1, which gives applicants plenty of time.

With the economy being so unsteady, the scholarship program allows spouses a chance to stay in college, return to college or begin higher education, said Brooks.

"Furthering education helps [Family members] go into the career field where they can financially contribute to the Family, which is going to help with financial stress that is sometimes brought into the home. It will ultimately help the mission overall because the Soldier's stress level will go down without the added pressure of a financial strain at home," she said.

There is not a designated number of scholarships that are awarded each year; whoever qualifies financially gets a scholarship.

The school an applicant attends must be an institution accredited by the U.S. Department of Education; it can be a technical school, a community college or a university.

"The scholarships cannot be used for anything higher than an undergraduate degree and it must be the first degree or certificate that the recipient will get," said Brooks.

The amount that each person gets is based solely on financial need, not rank or grade of the sponsor. For children, grades, grade point average and leadership also factor in on how much aid they will receive.

"These are great programs because we don't require any type of essay, which most scholarship programs do. All they have to do is complete their taxes, then use their forms to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid online, which takes about five days to get those results. Then they use those results to complete our application, which they can also do online," said Angie Pratt, AER assistant scholarship program manager.

To be eligible for the Maj. Gen. James Ursano Scholarship Program, the student must be the child of a Soldier on active duty, retired, deceased while retired or deceased while on active duty; remain unmarried during the entire academic year, maintain a GPA of 2.0; be listed as a dependent in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System; be under the age of 23; and have a high school diploma or a general education development diploma. Also, they must submit high school or college transcripts.

To be eligible for the Spouse Education Assistance Program, the student must be the spouse of an active duty Soldier, a retired Soldier, or the widow or widower of a Soldier who died on active duty or in a retired status and maintain a 2.0 GPA. If the spouse attended college previously then they must submit those transcripts.

For more information on AER scholarships, visit www.aerhq.org or call an AER scholarship counselor at 1 (866) 878-6378.

For other available scholarship programs, call the Fort Rucker Education Center at 255-2378.

Page last updated Thu January 17th, 2013 at 00:00